Legislative Process

Click Here to Visit the Vermont Legislative Bill Tracking System

The Vermont State Legislature plays an integral part in natural resource management and protection. The 150 House Representatives and 30 Senators are constantly crafting legislation that effects the quality of Vermont’s environment. The Vermont Natural Resources Council is regarded as the leader on environmental issues at the State House. VNRC staff members represent the only environmental advocacy organization that provides a daily presence to offer expertise on a broad spectrum of issues.

Vermont is fortunate to house a wonderfully open government in which organizations, special interests, and regular Vermonters all have easy, inviting access to legislators and the legislative process. VNRC has been a part of this citizen friendly legislative process for 40 years. Throughout VNRC’s history, we have been responsible for passage of some of Vermont’s landmark environmental laws. And, in what seems to be a growing trend, VNRC spends countless hours, days, weeks, and months fighting to stop legislation that would undermine the quality of Vermont’s environmental laws.

Vermont has been slow to move from the more congenial, laid back atmosphere at the State House to one that mirrors the presence of slick, high dollar contract lobbyists who fill state houses across the country. But things in Vermont are changing. Business lobbyists outnumber environmental advocates at the State House by a nine to one ratio, and that gap is growing. It has become more important than ever for Vermonters to help support VNRC’s legislative presence through membership and contributions. The future of Vermont’s environmental quality is counting on it.

For more about how a bill becomes law in Vermont, see below:

 

Introducing a Bill | Committee Action | Floor Debate | Conference Committee | Governor | Glossary


INTRODUCING A BILL (back to top)

Any member of the Vermont House or Senate can introduce a piece of legislation on any topic by following these steps:

  1. The bill is assigned a number, which always begins at 1 at the beginning of the session (e.g. H.179 or S.264).
  2. The bill is labeled with the sponsor’s name.
  3. The bill is sent to the Government Printing Office and copies are made.
  4. After the bill has been introduced, the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate refers it to the appropriate committee.

COMMITTEE ACTION (back to top)

Bills may be referred to more than one committee and it may be split so that parts are sent to different committees. The Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees. Bills are placed on the calendar of the committee to which they have been assigned. Failure to act on a bill is also called “killing” it.

 

Committees Usually Handling Environmental Bills
Senate House
Agriculture Agriculture
Natural Resources & Energy Natural Resources & Energy
Transportation Transportation
Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources

 

 

Committee Process:

  1. The bill can be assigned to a subcommittee by the Committee Chairperson, if necessary.
  2. Hearings may be held. Open hearings are an important time for citizens who would be affected by the bill to make a statement to the committee.
  3. Finally there is a vote by the full committee – the bill is “ordered to be reported.”
  4. A committee will hold a “mark-up” session during which it will make revisions and additions. If substantial amendments are made, the committee can order the introduction of a “clean bill” which will include the proposed amendments. This new bill will have a new number and will be sent to the floor while the old bill is discarded. The chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote.
  5. After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why they wish to see their amendments, if any, adopted. Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report. The report is sent back to the whole chamber and is placed on the calendar.
  6. In the House, most bills go to the Rules committee before reaching the floor. The committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the House will consider the bill. A “closed rule” sets strict time limits on debate and forbids the introduction of amendments. These rules can have a major impact on whether the bill passes. The rules committee can be bypassed in three ways:
    1. members can move rules to be suspended (requires 2/3 vote);
    2. a discharge petition can be filed;
    3. the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure.

FLOOR DEBATE (back to top)

Senate House
Scheduling Legislation is placed on the Legislative Calendar. Scheduling of legislation is the job of the Majority Leader. Bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses.

Bills are placed on one of four House Calendars. They are usually placed on the calendars in the order of which they are reported yet they don’t usually come to floor in this order – some bills never reach the floor at all. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when. (Legislation can also be brought to the floor by a discharge petition.)

Floor DebateDebate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane – riders are often offered. Entire bills can therefore be offered as amendments to other bills, unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by “talking it to death.”

Debate is limited by the rules formulated in the Rules Committee. Debate is guided by the Sponsoring Committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to the subject of a bill – no riders are allowed. The bill is then voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure that there are enough members present to have a final vote. If there is not a quorum, the House will adjourn or will send the Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.

VotingAfter debate, the bill is voted on. If passed, it is then sent to the other chamber (House bills to the Senate, Senate bills to the House) unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass the bill then it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the Governor. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.


CONFERENCE COMMITTEE (back to top)

Members from each house form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with the bill. The representatives from each house work to maintain their version of the bill. If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report, which is submitted to each chamber. The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate.


THE GOVERNOR (back to top)

The bill is sent to the Governor for review.

A bill becomes law if signed by the Governor or if not signed within 10 days and the Legislature is in session. If the Governor vetoes the bill it is sent back to the Legislature with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.

Once a bill is signed by the Governor or his/her veto is overridden by both houses, it becomes a law and is assigned an official number.


GLOSSARY OF TERMS (back to top)

House Calendar – deals with public bills which do not raise revenue or appropriate any money or property.

Consent Calendar – Deals with bills which are not controversial and are passed without debate. This calendar is called on the first and third Monday of each month.

Cloture – Is a motion in the Senate to limit debate. It takes 60 votes to invoke cloture. Invoking cloture will end a filibuster.

Committee of the Whole – The members of the House of Representatives organized into a committee for the consideration of bills and other matters. Most House business is transacted in the Committee of the Whole so that the formal requirements of its regular sessions, such as having a quorum of one-half the membership, can be avoided.

Co-sponsor – Additional members (after the original sponsor) who join on to support a bill.

Discharge Petition – In the House, if a committee does not report a bill within 30 days after the measure is referred to it, any member may file a discharge motion. Once offered, the motion is treated as a petition needing the signatures of a majority of members (218 if there are no vacancies). After the required signatures have been obtained, there is a delay of seven days. Thereafter on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, except during the last six days of a session, any member who has signed the petition must be recognized, if he/she so desires, to move that the committee be discharged. Debate on the motion to discharge is limited to 20 minutes, and, if the motion is carried, consideration of the bill be comes a matter of high privilege.

Filibuster – An attempt to defeat a bill in the Senate by talking indefinitely, thus preventing the Senate from doing any other work. From the Spanish filibustero, which means a “freebooter,” a military adventurer.

Germane – Pertaining to the subject matter of the measure at hand.

Rider – A provision, unlikely to pass on its own merits, added to an important bill so that it will “ride” through the legislative process.

Sponsor – The original member who introduces a bill.

Veto – The power of a Governor, governor, or mayor to kill a piece of legislation by not signing it into law. From Latin term veto – “I forbid”.

Legislative Leadership

  • Senate
    • Governor Pro Tempore – Selected by majority party. Usually most senior member of the Senate majority party.
    • Majority Leader – Leads the party.
    • Majority Whip – Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads group of deputy whips.
    • Chairman of the Conference – Presides over meetings of all members of the Senate majority party.
    • Policy Committee – Schedules legislation.
    • Legislative Review Committee – Reviews legislative proposals and makes recommendations to senators of the majority party.
    • Steering Committee – Assigns Senators of the majority party to committees.
    • Minority Leader – Leads the party.
    • Assistant Minority Leader – Assists the leader, rounds up votes.
  • House
    • Speaker of the House – Selected by the majority party.
    • Majority Leader – Leads the party.
    • Majority Whip – Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large group of deputy and assistant whips.
    • Chairman of the Caucus – Presides over meetings of all members of the majority party.
    • Steering and Policy Committee – Schedules legislation, assigns members of the majority party to committees.
    • Minority Leader – Leads the party.
    • Minority Whip – Assists the leader, rounds up votes, heads large forum of deputy and assistant whips.v Research Committee-On request, provides information about issues.