Limiting the Scope of Special Sessions

While governors call special sessions, they cannot limit the legislature to the issues set out in the proclamation.  The Vermont General Assembly operates under Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures and Rule 780(2) of Mason’s states: “In issuing a call for a special session of the legislature, the governor may confine legislation to the subjects specified by the governor’s proclamation.” Rule 91 of the Vermont Senate, however, states, “Where a question of parliamentary procedures arises not covered by these Senate Rules, Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures shall prevail, except Mason’s Rule No. 780, as that rule is contrary to Senate procedures and customs.”  

House Rule 88 also designates Mason’s for procedures not covered in the House Rules, but does not have an exception for Mason’s Rule No. 780. This may be because Mason’s Rule No. 4 notes that rules of legislative procedure are based, among other things, on “customs, usage and precedent.” There are long established precedents of the house taking up matters beyond what a governor enumerated in the special session proclamation.

Attempts by the general assembly to restrict deliberations to the reasons set out in the special session proclamation are generally unsuccessful. At the first special session the senate offered a rule, “That during the present extraordinary session of the General Assembly, it is inexpedient to legislate upon any subject except the one for which such assembly is now specifically convened” — the subject being the construction of a new statehouse. The house did not concur though it later adopted a resolution that cut off introduction of any new bills not related to the statehouse fire: “No bill or resolution, not legitimately relative to the subject matter of the Governor’s Proclamation, calling the extra session, shall be further entertained than to refer the same to the next session.”  That rule was subsequently waived. During the special session the general assembly passed laws altering the name of Mary Jane Sullivan, incorporating the Orange County Hotel Company and the Hammond Female Institute, and enacting other measures not related to the statehouse fire.

Almost every subsequent session witnessed an attempt to restrict legislation to the purpose of the session. Even when rules were adopted to that effect they were almost always waived and other legislation was taken up. One mechanism for controlling the introduction of legislation was to adopt rules requiring the Rules Committee to review proposed bills and determine which could be introduced. In 1962, at the urging of the speaker, the house adopted a rule stating that “in all special sessions no member or committee may introduce a bill unless prior consent of the Rules Committee is obtained.” The rule was adopted by a 218 to 15 vote. Future Governor Philip Hoff was among those legislators opposing the rule because “I am unwilling to delegate [to] a group of five people what legislation should be brought before this House when that group may or may not represent the will of the House.”

In 1975 the Senate adopted a rule that “no bill may be introduced during this Special Session unless it is a committee bill introduced by or with the consent of the Rules Committee.” The House continued to allow a member, as well as committees, to introduce bills with the consent of the Rules Committee.

In 2005 the senate began to re-open the scope of what could be addressed by bringing some bills from the regular session within the purview of the special session. Senate Rule 33B stated: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph A, upon recommendation of the Committee on Rules, the Senate may take up any and all matters considered during the first session of the 2005 biennium, specifically including: (a) consideration of any items vetoed by the Governor (e.g., H. 516 or H. 524); (b) the so-called VEPC bill (S. 165) or other matters that may be received from the House of Representatives.” Senate Rule 33C further elaborated that “In the event that matters considered during the first session of the 2005 biennium are taken up during this special session, nothing in this resolution shall further preclude further consideration of any such bills or resolutions during the adjourned session of the 2005 biennium.”

The House did not adopt similar rules in 2005 but in 2009 both chambers adopted rules that would allow bills from the regular session, including any vetoed bills, to be taken up in the special session. Such rules may blur traditional lines between special and regular sessions. To a lesser degree they also blur lines between special and veto sessions, though in 2009 the governor had to call for a special session since he had vetoed the budget bill, leaving the State without a budget as the new fiscal year approached. 


This page was last updated: 2018-02-13