Governor can’t veto proposed change to state constitution, but Nov. 8 voters can – and it happened in 1986
By Guy Page
The Vermont House of Representatives may vote on Prop 5, the proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion without restrictions, as soon as this Friday.
Today’s House Calendar reads, under the Notice Calendar headline, “Second Day of Four Legislative Days Notice Pursuant to Rule 51a. Prop 5 Declaration of rights; right to personal reproductive liberty.”
Vermont House Rule 51A says “If voted out of committee, the proposal [to amend the constitution] will appear on the Notice Calendar for four legislative days and be up for Action on the fifth legislative day.” Wednesday and Thursday will be days three and four. Therefore Prop 5 will be “up for action” on Friday.
Action is considered likely, as the Speaker of the House – zealous Prop 5 supporter and former Planned Parenthood lobbyist Jill Krowinski – has promised a House decision in February.
Constitutional amendments must be approved by both House and Senate in consecutive bienniums. Both chambers approved Prop 5 in the 2019-2020 biennium, and the Senate approved it in 2021. The House vote is the final step before the Legislature.
Krowinski holds the gavel in the House. But it’s up to voters to render the final decision.
If approved by majority vote, Prop 5 will not face the possibility of a gubernatorial veto. But it will face a possible ‘veto’ by voters at a statewide referendum at the November 8 general election. Here’s what happens after House approval, according to an April, 2019 document prepared by Legislative Counsel:
If passed by both chambers in both bienniums, the Governor must provide public notice of the proposed amendment by proclamation. Vt. Const. Ch. II, § 72.
17 V.S.A. § 1844 requires the Secretary of State to publish the proposal and a summary thereof in at least two newspapers having general circulation in the State. These publications must occur once each week for three successive weeks.
This statute also requires the proposal to be published on the websites of the General Assembly and of the Office of the Secretary of State for the same duration as the newspaper publications.
The proposal is then submitted to the voters of the State for ratification; voters must ratify by majority vote. Vt. Const. Ch. II, § 72. 17 V.S.A. § 1842 requires this vote to occur at the general election.
Prop 5 would amend the Vermont Constitution’s Section 1 – the section dealing exclusively with individual rights – for the first time since 1786. It would add Article 22: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”
Its critics say the language is vague – perhaps intentionally so – and would permit not only unrestricted abortion but abuses such as:
- Deprivation of health care workers freedom of conscience
- Unrestricted funding of all abortion-related practices
- Unrestricted abortion of Down Syndrome babies and other babies deemed less than perfect.
- Tying the hands of future legislatures to require parental notification, ultrasound viewing, and other measures meant to guide the abortion process.
Supporters say the amendment is needed because the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe V. Wade. They say all of the questions and difficulties will be worked out by the courts.
Although Section 1 of the Constitution hasn’t ever been amended, it’s not for lack of trying by activists. A Vermont Equal Rights Amendment was on the November 4, 1986 ballot in Vermont as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment – where it was defeated, according to Ballotpedia.
The Vermont State Legislature enacted the proposed constitutional amendment as Proposal 1 of 1983, sending it to the voters, Ballotpedia said. Section 22 of Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution would have been amended by this proposal, if it had passed.
Madeline Kunin was re-elected as governor in 1986, but lost the ERA she passionately supported by a 49-51% margin. An Associated Press story from 1986 quotes Nancy Stringer, Nancy Stringer, director of the opposing Vermont ERA Information Committee, saying the defeat would allow Vermont ″to continue our traditions and freedoms and rights as we always have.″