When party control of legislative chambers shifts, constitutional amendments requiring votes in two sessions are more often rejected

Thirteen states have multi-year constitutional amendment processes that involve legislatures passing amendments in two successive sessions before they are put to the vote. Since 2010, 66% (60 out of 91) of the amendments adopted in the first session in these states were also adopted in the second. When partisan control of a legislative chamber changes between two successive legislative sessions, constitutional amendments often fail to receive a vote in the second session. From 2010 to 2022, 79% (11 out of 14) of constitutional amendments in two-session states were defeated or died in committee as a result of a change in party control. Virginia, where Republicans took control of the House after the 2021 election, became the most recent example of this pattern with House committee votes on March 1.

The Virginia state legislature passed two constitutional amendments in 2021. One would have repealed language in the state constitution defining marriage between a man and a woman. The other constitutional amendment would have restored the right to vote to those convicted of a crime after serving their sentence. Both constitutional amendments received unanimous support from legislative Democrats. Six House Republicans voted for the marriage amendment and two for the 2021 restoration of voting rights amendment.

In the November 2, 2021 election, Republicans went from a 45-member minority to a 52-member majority in the 100-seat House of Delegates. Democrats overthrew the state Senate in 2019 and remain in control through the 2022 legislative session. State senate elections are held every four years.

On February 15, 2022, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved in the second session the two constitutional amendments approved in 2021. Four Senate Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the marriage amendment, and three supported the marriage amendment. restoration of the right to vote. On March 1, a Republican-controlled House Privileges and Elections subcommittee rejected both amendments, preventing them from moving forward. The votes were 6 to 4 along party lines.

Of states with two-session voting requirements for constitutional amendments, only the Nevada and Virginia legislatures have flipped twice since 2010. In Nevada, the legislature moved from Democratic to Republican control in 2014 and then back again. to Democratic control in 2016. Democrats passed two constitutional amendments in 2013 – including an amendment to repeal a provision on the definition of marriage like in Virginia last year – which did not receive votes after Republicans have become the majority. When Democrats took over the legislature in 2016, four Republican-backed constitutional amendments were struck down in committee, including a constitutional right to hunt and fish and a two-thirds vote requirement for revenue increases.

During the 2017 legislative session, Nevada Democrats, along with eight Republicans, again passed the Marriage Amendment. This time, however, Democrats retained control of the legislature in 2018 and passed the amendment in the second session in 2019. Voters approved the amendment in the 2020 general election.

States have different requirements for legislatures to propose amendments to their constitutions. Some require votes at one session, others at two. States can require a simple majority of legislators, a 60% majority, a two-thirds majority, or a 75% majority to pass a constitutional amendment. Of the 13 states with a two-session legislative hoist process, four states allow lawmakers to approve amendments in one session by a higher voting threshold. In South Carolina, the legislature can put an amendment on the ballot by vote in one session, but must vote on the amendment again in another session if voters approve it. With the exception of Delaware, all states require constitutional amendments to be submitted to voters for approval or rejection. Eighteen states have citizen-initiated constitutional amendment processes.

You can read more about how your state’s constitution is changed at Ballotpedia.org.

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