Role of the Governor in Special Sessions

The governor calls for a special session through a proclamation that also sets out the necessity for convening the session. Unlike the President of the United States, who can call the senate into special session without the house, the Governor has to convene the full general assembly. Prior to the creation of Vermont’s bicameral legislature in 1836 a governor could call the executive council into special session without convening the general assembly. In 1799, for example, the governor convened a special session of the executive council on March 4th to fill vacancies in the Vermont judiciary.

Governors usually, but not always, address the special session to elaborate on the reasons for the session. In the earlier special sessions governors sent messages that elaborated on the issues; in later sessions governors delivered their messages in person. In some cases governors did not address the legislature; in 1981, 2005, and 2009, for example, it does not appear that the governor addressed the joint assembly.       

Governors occasionally urge the joint assembly to restrict legislative actions to the issues set out in the proclamation, but they have no authority to impose such restrictions.  It is not uncommon, however, for governors to urge legislators to restrict the scope of deliberations because the issues set out in the proclamation need quick remedy; the cost of the special session to taxpayers; or an approaching regular session at which other matters could be introduced and considered with more deliberation. For example, Governor Charles Smith’s address to the 1936 special session noted the proximity of the regular session, while Governor F. Ray Keyser’s 1962 address appealed to the self-discipline of the legislature.

Tensions between respective authorities of the executive and legislative branches occasionally become part of the special session dialogues. This was particularly true in 1962 when a special session was convened to address the reapportionment of the senate, an issue that spilled over from the regular session. At issue was Rutland County losing senate seats to Chittenden County based on the 1960 U.S. Census. Senator Robert Spenser of Chittenden County saw Governor Keyser as “trying to shove a particular method [of apportionment] down the throat of the General Assembly.” 

Since 1912 (Senate) and 1925 (House) governors can fill legislative vacancies. This was occasionally an issue with earlier special sessions. In 1857 Rep. Mylon Denio of Rupert died prior to the special session and the voters elected Joseph Harwood to replace him. He was not seated, however, since the legislature found that “there is no provision in the Constitution or Laws of the State for the holding of special sessions of the legislature, or for elections thereto; nor is any mode indicated for filling vacancies.” The reference to no provisions for holding special sessions is curious since they were provided for in the state constitution. The legislature could supply vacancies in leadership posts. In 1898, for example, Speaker William A. Lord had to resign since he now held a federal position; Kitteridge Haskins was elected speaker.

Governors occasionally offer an address at the conclusion of the special session to celebrate or chide the legislators. In 1964 Governor Philip Hoff, disappointed that the legislature had not enacted many of his proposals for “modernizing” government, chided the legislators for failing “to seize the opportunity to make a beginning... an opening thrust towards the goal of progressive efficient and realistic Vermont government for the 60’s... 70’s and beyond.”  Conversely Governor Richard Snelling, following the 1981 special session that enacted a new juvenile crime law, celebrated the legislators: “In the finest tradition of this citizen legislature, you have answered the call of the people of Vermont. For these few beautiful midsummer days you have set aside your work and your families, left hay in the fields, and come home from vacation—and in the calm, deliberative way which the legislative process demands, addressed a deep concern and fear of your friends and your neighbors.” 

This page was last updated: 2018-02-13