Sen. Clarkson: Constitutional issues in Montpelier

By Sen. Alison Clarkson

It is not easy to amend the Vermont Constitution. It is a multi-year process, requiring review and approval in two consecutive legislative biennia and a vote by Vermonters at the end.

Our constitution traces back to 1777, when it was written in Windsor at the Old Constitution House, for what was then the Vermont Republic. It was first amended in 1786. Our current constitution was adopted in 1793 once Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791. In 1870, it was amended to allow for proposed changes to be ratified by the Vermont voters.

Since then, Vermonters have ratified 28 of the 30 amendments presented to them. Before 1974,  constitutional amendments could only be proposed every 10 years. Now, the Vermont legislature is able to consider amendments every four years. Our constitution was most recently amended in 2010 to allow 17 year olds, who would be 18 by the time of the general election in November, to vote in the primary.  Which brings us to 2019.

This is the first year of a two-year biennium in which we are able to consider amendments. Six proposals have been introduced thus far. Proposals are only introduced in the Senate and can only be amended in the Senate committee process. They require 20 votes in the Senate (there are 30 senators) and are not read/voted on twice. If the proposal passes, it goes to the House – where it is not able to be changed but needs to be ratified by a majority vote (there are 150 in the House).

It then needs to be reconsidered in the following biennium, 2021-22, after which, if it is ratified by both bodies, it goes to the Vermont voters for consideration in November 2022.

Three of these proposals are in my afternoon Senate Government Operations Committee:

  • Proposal 1- for a four-year term of office for governor;
  • Proposal 2 – to simplify and update our prohibition of slavery; and
  • Proposal 6 – for a four-year term of office for senators.

While we have had a number of meetings and a public hearing on Proposal 2, we have not yet finalized the language for the amendment.

Proposals 3 and 4 are being considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Proposal 3 addresses a right to privacy and Proposal 4 establishes equal rights between men and women. Proposal 5 – the right to personal reproductive liberty – was considered in the Senate Health and Welfare committee. It was the first amendment voted out of committee and was presented to the Senate Chamber this past Thursday for a vote. It passed 28-2 and now goes to the House for consideration.

Proposal 5 amends Article 22 of Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution. It reads: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course as protected by this Constitution, and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

This change would give affirmative constitutional protection to what is current practice in Vermont. It will affirm the right to abortion as it currently exists in our state – and will ensure reproductive liberty for family planning, contraception and deeply personal decisions women and men make about their lives.

I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at the Statehouse (Tuesday through Friday) 828-2228 or at home (Saturday through Monday) 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills that have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website by clicking here.

Sen. Clarkson represents Windsor County in the state legislature.

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  1. Alfred Rieger says:

    Dear Senator Clarkson,

    I appreciate your letter but I am not in favor of increasing term limits for elected office in Vermont. Vermont neither needs nor wants professionalized politicians who regard their own careers more important than the needs of their constituents. This is a bad idea, an idea that I hope will fail in this session.

    Respectfully,

    Alfred Rieger

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