Vermonters' House

At least that was the original intent

However longer and longer sessions:

> Close the doors for most Vermonters to serve in their State House <
> Exclude the voice of working Vermonters from the State House <
> Result in policy that does not work for most people <
> Cost Vermonters millions upon millions every year <
> Puts special-interest agendas before Vermonters <
> Distracts the legislature from its primary duty <

The steady increase in session length since 1950, as shown in the graph below,
coincides with Vermontís increasing regulatory and tax burden
and reduction of economic opportunity for most Vermonters.


While all Vermonters are able to visit the State House, serving as a legislator in the State House has become increasingly difficult for many sectors making the legislature less and less representative of Vermontís population.

A look at the growth in session length (above graph) over the past five decades shows why most people who work in a competitive sector cannot consider serving as a legislator. The charts below show that prior to 1950 the average session length was 10 weeks, with both years of the term combined. After 1950 the average session length more than tripled at 31 weeks, again with both years of the term combined.

1780 - 2010
 
Shortest
Average
Longest
Number of Days (per 2-year term)
37
111
308
Number of Weeks (per 2-year term)
5
16
44

1780 - 1950
 
Shortest
Average
Longest
Number of Days (per 2-year term)
37
72
129
Number of Weeks (per 2-year term)
5
10
18

1951 - 2010
 
Shortest
Average
Longest
Number of Days (per 2-year term)
136
220
308
Number of Weeks (per 2-year term)
19
31
44

The result has been that over the past six decades it has become increasingly difficult for people in competitive business sectors to serve. And leaving that voice essentially out of the State House (even with a few, they are such a small minority, they have little to no influence on policy), Vermontís public policy does not reflect the needs of the competitive business market.

Instead, Vermont policy has taken a sharp turn toward social programs and social experimentation.

Could this be Vermont's biggest problem?

The serious implications from the State House of not reflecting Vermont as a whole, does indeed make a strong case that the long sessions are Vermont's biggest problem, or at least the root cause of the huge struggles many Vermonters are facing when trying to make ends meet.

With the average cost per week of the legislature being in session costing $250,000 to $275,000, Vermonters are paying between 5 and 6 million dollars extra every two years, than if we had session lengths along the lines of those before 1950. But that extra cost is only the direct costs. The indirect costs are even greater as more and more unsustainable, ill-thought-out social programs are enacted into law. These programs cost Vermonters in both increasing taxes and in the costs associected with increasing regulations, which drives up the cost of whatever is being regulated. For example, added regulation in the housing market drives up the cost of housing.

Turning Vermont around requires opening the State House back up to all Vermonters, which requires shorter sessions. The most effective way to make the public aware is for Vermonters to run for the legislature on a platform of shorter sessions, exposing the connection between long sessions and unworkable and unsustainable policy. If you live in a district where no candidate supports bringing the session length back to a reasonable length, on the order of pre-1950, consider running for the legislature and with session length as your top issue.

If, like most Vermonters, there is no way you can serve a long session, run with an upfront and honest commitment of when you have to leave if you are elected. If you win, you have a mandate from your constituents to leave early if the legislature goes on and on as has been the habit in recent years. Even if voters are not comfortable with your situation, you will have still pushed the idea ahead, which will put pressure on the legislature to get down to business. Additionally, it will impact future elections as the issue of session length gets better known.

If elected, allow yourself the freedom to stay until things are wrapped up, if it is not far beyond what you campaigned for. You also can leave to meet your work demands and then go back to Montpelier for key votes. But the reality is if we do not put some teeth to this idea, which requires candidates are who committed to it, we will continue to have a legislature enacting policy that makes life more and more difficult for the majority of Vermonters.

Given that every two years the entire legislature is up for re-election, it makes sense that the first year of each term would be much longer than the second year. In the first year the new legislature needs to set its priorities and build a budget based upon those priorities and the amount of revenue the state will take in via taxes and fees.

If we aim for the pre-1950 average of 10 weeks per 2-year term, it is more than realistic to aim for a two-month session the first year and then a two-week session the second year. The second year is primarily to make any needed budget adjustments if revenues are different than projected. If revenues hold to the projections, the legislature would not even need to meet the second year.

One would hope that the legislature would not need to start from scratch again the second year, looking at every program, since it is made up of all the same people as the prior year, at which time they should have set their priorities.

In an emergency, the governor can always call a special session. So even if short sessions were set in law, there is no need for concern due to emergency situations. However it would be best to just elect people committed to getting down to business, setting a responsible budget that encourages economic activity over state-funded social programs. After all the best social program is a good job; and that requires a vibrant economy.

If a business with a budget the size of Vermontís budget, could not create its priorities and set its budget within two monthís time, it would surely not stay in business. Help get Vermont in the black again!

Only shorter sessions will result in a State House that is open to the voice of working Vermonters. Only shorter sessions make it possible for Vermont's talented and busy entrepreneurs and workforce to serve as legislators. The Vermont legislature was designed to enable these busy people to serve and shape Vermont as much as any other sector. As shown in the graph above, until recent decades they could and did.

Help bring back government by the people.

Ask Vermont House and Senate candidates seeking your vote for their position on reopening the State House by shortening the session. If they tend to ignore or minimize this issue in their campaign, help start a write-in campaign for someone who will campaign and work to reopen Vermonters' State House.

Vermont is in bad need of a game-changer.

If you want a job done, find someone who is too busy. If you are too busy, Vermont needs you!

Email Contact: Mark Shepard at mark@markshepard.us
Vermont State Senator, 2003-2006

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