Vermont ranks last in restraining the governor’s emergency powers

By David Flemming

Vermont scored the worst of all 50 states in providing a legislative check on the governor’s emergency powers, according to a new study from the Maine Policy Institute.

Vermont’s Legislature has little legal authority to challenge any emergency edict from the governor, given the wide scope in Vermont law regarding a governor’s actions in declaring and continuing a state of emergency.

In the policy study — “Scoring Emergency Executive Power In All 50 States” —  “every state received a numerical score between 1 and 20 across five categories for a total score of up to 100 points. The highest score denotes the most stringent executive powers, allowing for the greatest accountability from the people’s branch, the legislature. The lowest score denotes the weakest check on executive powers and the greatest potential threat to liberty.”

state of Vermont

In every single other New England state, a joint resolution passed by the House and Senate will terminate a state of emergency. Vermont stands alone in giving the governor the sole authority to terminate an emergency.

There is a wide range in the time limits New England states have set on their state of emergency declarations. New Hampshire has the strictest declaration: the emergency must be renewed every 21 days. Maine and Rhode Island have a limit of 30 days, and Connecticut stipulates 60 days. Only Massachusetts and Vermont have no time limit on a state of emergency.

The only category that Vermont scores better in is the “authority to alter statutes or regulations” during a state of emergency. Only Massachusetts and Vermont do not give the governor such authority. New Hampshire is nearly as strict: the governor “may amend or create new regulations but cannot modify or remove statute.” Connecticut, Maine and Rhode all allow the governor to suspend any statute or regulation related to the emergency.

In the report, Vermont scores abysmally on the governor’s powers continuing post-emergency. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island immediately remove any such powers from the governor after the state of emergency is lifted. Maine gives its governor 30 days to use executive powers during the Covid-19 emergency. Connecticut and Vermont score lowest of the New England states, giving their governor six months to keep using emergency powers.

While the first three categories are given only a single weight, the last two categories are weighted twice as heavily, because, as Maine Policy notes, “the primary focus of this report is the checks and balances on emergency executive authority.”

Vermont joins three other New England states in giving the governor the sole responsibility for declaring a state of emergency: Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A Connecticut Senate/House legislative joint committee may “disapprove and nullify” a governor’s emergency order within three days, while New Hampshire gives both the legislature and governor the power to declare an emergency.

In every single other New England state, a joint resolution passed by the House and Senate will terminate a state of emergency. Vermont stands alone in giving the governor the sole authority to terminate an emergency.

It makes sense why these final two categories are weighted twice as heavily: Gov. Phil Scott has the authority to declare an emergency at any time he pleases and end it whenever he pleases. Time limits, the suspensions of laws during an emergency, and even the governor’s powers that continue after a state of emergency has ended, are all icing on cake.

No doubt the citizens of other states are more aware of interplay of emergency powers between the governor and legislature. Scott and the Vermont Legislature have been in near lockstep, at least on Vermont’s state of emergency, for all of 2020.

So far, only a minority of Vermonters have taken any actions against such emergency actions. However, lawmakers can reform Vermont statute and decentralize emergency power from the governor to the governor and the legislature.

To read Vermont’s state of emergency laws, click here. The Main Policy Institute’s report can be read in its entirety here.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of state of Vermont

8 thoughts on “Vermont ranks last in restraining the governor’s emergency powers

  1. Didn’t Vermonters used to have a reputation for being rugged and independent? Now Vermont is the welfare state where the people love benefits more than freedom. We are turning into Venezuela.

  2. The Governor has infringed on the rights of all Vermonters to protect a single group: those highest at-risk for Covid-19 fatality, a group comprised chiefly of those over 70 with underlying serious health conditions. To protect this group our entire society is being punished through business closures and job loses; the dictum of “first do no harm” has been twisted into a philosophy of acting as if Covid-19 will kill everyone in all age groups equally. It didn’t have to be this way as another policy that took “first do no harm” to heart was available to us, and this policy is embodied in the Great Barrington Declaration, signed onto by numerous health professionals. How is it that we instead adopted a policy of the greatest collateral damage possible– a policy of lockdown that originated from an authoritarian country? The list of harms from our current policy would be very long indeed, and the example of a society that didn’t infringe on rights and rend the social fabric so violently– Sweden– demonstrates that all the predictions of huge deaths from such a benign policy were dead wrong.

    The bottom line is that it isn’t up to Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, or Dr. Fauci to demand that we give up liberties and livelihoods in order to satisfy their beliefs on how best to combat this virus. It’s up to us as individuals to decide for ourselves. Anyone who doesn’t like it that some individuals choose not to wear masks can double or triple mask if they want to– it’s entirely up to them. They can wear body suits if they want to. They can stay home, stay safe. It’s their choice, but it’s not their choice to tell anyone else how they should respond to this virus.

    Yes, a dictatorship is neat and tidy. Liberty is messy. But liberty, not “stay safe,” is what so many brave souls gave their lives for, and what we so casually cast aside these days.

  3. “I once held freedom in the palm of my hand, I thought it would always stay but I was a fool a Socialist tool, I threw it all away, I threw it all away.”

  4. My native state, that used be the icon of frugality, rugged individualism, local control and common sense
    has become something else……..snobbish, stupid and effete. Collectivist. And we BOW now to authority, cannot wait to breathlessly bow, like little girls, even when that authority is so transparently corrupt and power mad as the Progs are and Scott is…..

    D. Morrisseau W Pawlet

  5. This is common when a state has a spineless liar at it’s head and his merry Marxist’s as a super majority, provided cover by gutless RINO’s,Unity,Freedom and Liberty,hardly in a Marxist controlled state.

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