Vermont’s Legislative Process
the legislative process, it is necessary first of all to know something about
the nature of the lawmaking body itself. The legislature of
To be eligible for the office of Senator or Representative, a person must have been a resident of Vermont two years, the last year of which shall be in the legislative district for which the person is seeking election (chapter II section 15 & 66 of the Vermont Constitution).
Members of the Senate and House serve for two years. The terms of office of the members begin on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January in odd numbered years (i.e., 2013, 2015 etc.). The members are elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in even numbered years (i.e., 2014, 2016 etc.).
expense reimbursement for members of
the House and Senate is set forth in 32 V.S.A. § 1052.
salary is adjusted annually by the cost of living adjustment negotiated for
state employees. Members who commute to
The compensation and expense reimbursement for the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate are set forth in 32 V.S.A. §1051. The Speaker and the President Pro Tem of the Senate also receive a weekly salary while they are in session and the same meals and room expenses provided to the members of the House and Senate. The Speaker and the President Pro Tempore also receive an annual salary. The annual and weekly salary are adjusted annually by the cost of living adjustment negotiated for State employees.
The legislature convenes in regular sessions on the first Wednesday following the first Monday in the month of January of odd numbered years. It also meets usually on the first Tuesday of even numbered years for an Adjourned Session. There is no time limit on the length of the sessions, although they usually end between the middle of April and the middle of May. Special sessions of the Legislature may be called by the Governor. These are usually called for a specific purpose, but the Legislature may deal with any issue it wants when called into a special session.
The newly elected members must organize the House and Senate every two years after their election, which is done on the first day of the session. The House elects a Speaker and Clerk, adopts rules and allocates desks. The Speaker appoints the standing committees. The Senate elects a President Pro Tempore, Secretary and the third member of the committee on committees, and adopts rules. The committee on committees appoints the standing committees.
Bills and resolutions are drafted in the Legislative Council. A Member tells the drafter the type of bill he or she would like to introduce, and it is drawn up in legal form, given to the Member; who after reading and checking it, approves its release to the printer. The bill is then assigned a number, printed and presented to the Clerk of the House (Senate bills are presented to the Secretary of the Senate). At this point, the bill is introduced and read the first time by title only and normally referred to a committee. No bill can become an act until it has been read on three separate occasions in each house.
Legislative bodies operate mainly through standing committees in doing their work of considering bills. The Vermont House has fifteen standing committees and each is set up to consider bills relating to a particular subject of legislation. The committees are Agriculture and Forest Products (11 members); Appropriations (11 members); Commerce and Economic Development (11 members); Corrections and Institutions (11 members); Education (11 members); Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources (9 members); General Housing and Military Affairs (8 members); Government Operations (11 members); Health Care (11 members); Human Services (11 members); Judiciary (11 members); Natural Resources and Energy (11 members); Rules (7 members); Transportation (11 members); and Ways and Means (11 members). Each House member is assigned to one standing committee.
The Vermont Senate has twelve standing committees; Agriculture (5 members); Appropriations (7 members); Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs (5 members); Education (5 or 6 members); Finance (7 members); Government Operations (5 members); Health and Welfare (5 or 6 members); Institutions (5 or 6 members); Judiciary (5 members); Natural Resources and Energy (5 members); Transportation (5 members) and Rules (5 members). Each member is assigned to two, and sometimes, three committees.
Standing committees are charged with the important responsibility of examining bills and recommending action to the House or Senate. At some time during the day when the House or Senate is not in session, the committees will meet and consider the bills which have been referred to them.
After a committee has completed work on a bill, the committee Chair designates a member of the committee to report the bill to the House or Senate. The Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate receives the committee report which is placed on the Calendar for second reading. The rules require that a bill and committee report must appear on the Calendar for one day prior to second reading.
Bills are listed on the Calendar by number and title, with those having a recommendation of amendment coming first, those without amendment next, followed by resolutions for action and other matters for consideration.
On most bills, the recommendations of the committee are followed, although either house is free to overrule the action of the committee. After a bill has been discussed, it is voted on by voice vote, division of the house or a roll call vote. Roll call votes are recorded in the Journal. At this stage, the vote is on any proposed amendments and then whether the bill shall be read a third time.
The rules require that a bill may not be read a third time until the day after it is read the second time. On third reading, a bill may be acted on in the same manner as for second reading, except that amendments must be offered before it is read a third time. At this point, the question is “Shall the bill pass?” After a bill is passed and any amendments written into the original bill, it is signed by the Clerk and transmitted to the Senate by one of the Assistant Clerks, where it follows practically the same procedure under slightly different rules. If the Senate passes a bill with no amendments, it is returned to the House, and the Clerk delivers it to the Governor for signature after it has been signed by the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor. If the Senates proposes amendments to a House bill, the House may agree with the proposed amendment or disagree and request a Committee of Conference. If this occurs, each House will appoint three members to serve on the Committee of Conference. The six conferees meet and try to agree on a report, and if accomplished, the report is submitted to both houses for adoption. After adoption, any amendments are written into the original bill, and it is delivered to the Governor for his signature. The Governor has five days to approve or disapprove a bill. If the Governor signs the bill or allows it to become law without his or her signature, it is sent to the Secretary of State’s office and becomes a part of the permanent statutes. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it is returned together with the veto message to the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate. Then that house must consider it, and if it is passed by a two-thirds vote of each house, then it goes to the Secretary of State’s office and becomes a permanent part of the statutes. If either house fails to get a two-thirds vote, the bill is dead.
Sometimes what the Legislature wishes to accomplish cannot be done by the passage of a bill and requires a constitutional amendment. In Vermont, a proposal to amend the constitution can only be submitted every four years, must be introduced in the Senate, must be approved by a two thirds vote of the Senate and concurred in as passed by the Senate by a majority of the members of the House. Then the amendment, as passed, must be approved by a majority vote of both the House and Senate in the next biennial session. Then the amendment must be approved by a majority of the voters at the next general election. The four year cycle, or “time-lock”, started in 1975 and allows constitutional amendments to be proposed in a legislative session commencing every four years thereafter, and not otherwise. So amendments to the Vermont Constitution may not be proposed in the 2005-2006 legislative session, but must wait until 2007.
One of the common misconceptions about the Legislature is that the Members are at work for only three or four days a week when the Legislature meets. What the public fails to realize is that most of the work of the Legislature is done by committees. Actually they are the backbone of the legislative process. Before any bill of general importance is considered on the floor of either body, many hours of careful work are spent by the members of the standing committee to which the bill is referred. The Legislature as a whole, therefore, relies on its committees to work out the frivolous or less important measures and to report those deserving the consideration of the entire House or Senate.
By working through its standing committees, it is possible for each house of the Legislature to have each bill considered by a group of members who have specialized in the subject matter of the bill. Some members of the Legislature have expert knowledge of particular subjects of legislation, and such members are usually placed on committees in such a manner as to take full advantage of this specialized knowledge. For this reason, the Legislature usually accepts the recommendations of the standing committees. However, the Legislature does not completely abdicate its responsibility for the careful consideration of pending bills. If the need arises, the members of either house can force a committee to take action on a bill, or they can ignore the committees recommendations. Moreover, a great deal of legislative work is done by interim committees, or committees which are appointed to consider important subjects of legislation between the sessions of the Legislature. Interim committees usually are composed of members of both houses, and they meet for a number of days to consider special problems which the Legislature thinks should be studied carefully before a bill is drafted for introduction.
In this respect, the legislative process may be aptly compared with the iceberg. What the casual observer sees of the legislative process, as they observe the Legislature in session, is comparable to the 1/8th of the iceberg that is visible above water. The background work of studying problems requiring legislative solution is comparable to the submerged 7/8ths of the iceberg. It is not apparent on the surface, but it is there.
This background work of study and research is probably the most important aspect of the legislative process. And its importance will increase even more as the problems of our society with which the Legislature deals grow ever more technical and complex.
This article is patterned after one written in 1974 by Sylvia W.
Orange, Clerk of the
GLOSSARY OF LEGISLATIVE TERMS
ACT---Legislation enacted into law. A bill which has passed both houses of the Legislature, been signed by the Governor, allowed to become law without his signature or passed over the Governors veto. It is a permanent measure, having the force of law until repealed.
ADJOURNMENT---Termination of a session for that day, with the hour and day of the next meeting being set prior to adjournment.
ADJOURNMENT SINE DIE---Final termination of a regular or special legislative session.
ADOPTION---Approval or acceptance; usually applied to amendments or resolutions.
AGENDA---Schedule of business proposed for consideration.
AMENDMENT---Any alteration made or proposed to be made in a bill or paragraph thereof, by adding, changing, substituting or omitting.
AMENDMENT, CONSTITUTIONAL---A proposal of amendment to the constitution passed by both houses in two separate bienniums which requires approval of the voters at a general election.
APPEAL---A parliamentary procedure for testing and possibly changing the decision of a presiding officer.
APPORTIONMENT---Establishment of legislative districts from which members are elected.
APPROPRIATION---Fund allocated for various departments of government set aside by formal action for specific use.
APPROPRIATION, SUPPLEMENTAL---Funds appropriated to programs for which the original appropriation proved insufficient
APPROVAL BY GOVERNOR---Signature of the Governor on a bill passed by the Legislature.
ARCHIVES---Historical records stored at the office of the Secretary of State.
ASSISTANT CLERK---Non-member officer appointed by the Clerk, performs duties as prescribed by the Clerk and acts as Clerk in the Clerk’s absence.
AUTHOR---Legislator who is the primary sponsor of a bill or amendment.
BICAMERAL---A Legislature containing two houses.
BILL---Draft of a proposed law presented to the Legislature for consideration.
BILL HISTORY---Record of all action on any given bill. The term is also applied to action on resolutions and joint resolutions.
BILL INDEX---List of legislative bills or resolutions by subject matter or number.
BILL, SHORT FORM---A measure consisting of the name of the Sponsor, title and a short statement of purpose, substance being amended into it at a later date.
BUDGET---Suggested allocation of State moneys, compiled by the Governor in conjunction with department heads and presented to the Legislature for consideration.
CALENDAR, DAILY---List of legislation, arranged according to the order of business which is scheduled for consideration by the rules of the House on a legislative day. Printed daily and placed on the members desk each morning.
CALL TO ORDER---Notice given indicating the Legislature is officially in session. It is also used to call a disorderly member to order.
CARRY-OVER LEGISLATION---Legislation held over from one session to the next during the 2 year biennium.
CAUCUS---An informal meeting of a group of the Members, usually called on the basis of party affiliation.
CHAIR---An abstract designation of a presiding officer or chairperson.
CHAMBER---Official hall for the meeting of a legislative body.
CLERK---A non-member officer elected by the body as its administrative officer and advisor on parliamentary procedure. Performs duties as prescribed in the Rules of the House.
COMMIT---The referral and sending of a bill or resolution to a committee.
COMMITTEE---A body of Members appointed by the Speaker to consider and make recommendations concerning disposition of bills, resolutions or other related matters.
COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN---A member appointed by the Speaker to function as the parliamentary head of a standing committee.
COMMITTEE OF CONFERENCE---Committee composed of three members of both houses, appointed by the Speaker in the House and Committee on Committees in the Senate, to resolve the differences between the two houses on an amended bill. Said committee reports recommendations and/or amendments back to the respective houses for further action.
COMMITTEE, INTERIM---Committees appointed to study a specific problem between sessions to report to the Legislature before a date certain with recommendations. Such committees are usually created by joint resolution or by statute.
COMMITTEE, JOINT---Committee composed of members of both houses.
COMMITTEE REPORT---An official release from a committee of a bill or resolution, either without a recommendation, or with a specific recommendation, such as favorable, favorable with amendment or unfavorable.
COMMITTEE, STANDING---A committee authorized by the rules of the body, appointed by the Speaker in the House and the Committee on Committees in the Senate. Said committees have a continuing responsibility in the general field of activity as set forth in the rules of the respective body.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE---Either House of the legislature sitting as a committee to consider unique or special matters.
CONCURRENCE---Action by which one house agrees to a proposal or action which the other house has approved. A proposal may be amended, adopted and then returned to the other house for concurrence.
CONFIRMATION---Approval by the Senate of an executive appointment.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST---Untenable position which threatens the ability of a legislator to vote impartially due to some personal interest in a legislative issue.
CONSTITUENT---A citizen residing within the district of a legislator.
CONSTITUTION---A written instrument embodying the fundamental principles of the State that guarantees powers and duties of the government and guarantees certain rights to the people.
CONTESTED SEAT---A situation in which two or more contestants claim the right to represent a legislative district.
CONTINGENCY FUND---Money appropriated to the Emergency Board for any unforeseen expenses that may arise during the fiscal year.
CONVENE---The meeting of the Legislature daily, weekly and at the beginning of a session as provided by the constitution.
CO-AUTHOR OR CO-SPONSOR---One of two or more persons proposing any bill or resolution.
DAY CERTAIN---Adjournment with a specific day to reconvene.
DEBATE---Discussion of a matter according to parliamentary rules.
DIED IN COMMITTEE---Measure defeated or not acted on in committee.
DILATORY---Deliberate repeated use of parliamentary procedure to delay action on a legislative matter.
DISSENT---Difference of opinion, also to cast a negative vote.
DISTRICT---That division of the State represented by a legislator, determined by population, and distinguished numerically and by geographical boundaries.
DIVISION---A method of voting; a request that members stand to be counted when the outcome of a voice vote is unclear or in dispute.
DIVISION OF THE QUESTION---Procedure to separate a matter to be voted on into two or more questions, usually requested on an amendment.
EFFECTIVE DATE---A law becomes effective on July 1 after being signed by the Governor unless a date is specified.
ENACTING CLAUSE---That clause of an act which formally expresses the legislative sanction. It varies in different states and in Vermont begins with It is hereby enacted@.
ENROLLED BILL---A final copy of a bill passed by the legislature.
EXECUTIVE SESSION---A session excluding from the chamber all persons other than members and essential staff personnel. This is rarely used in Vermont.
EX-OFFICIO---Individuals appointed or elected by virtue of the position they hold. Usually non-voting members, serving in an advisory capacity.
FILIBUSTER---A strategic device by which a minority can control the floor through extended debate on a controversial measure for the purpose of delaying or preventing passage.
FISCAL YEAR---An accounting period of twelve months: in Vermont, from July 1 through June 30.
FLOOR---That portion of the assembly chamber reserved for members and officers of the assembly and other persons granted the privilege of the floor while the chamber is in session.
FREE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE---Same as conference committee, with additional power to insert new matter, to facilitate compromise. Rarely used in Vermont.
GALLERY---Balconies of chamber from which visitors may view the proceedings of the Legislature.
GERMANENESS---The relevance or appropriateness of amendments or substitutes.
GERRYMANDERING---Legislative district boundary lines drawn to obtain partisan or factional advantage.
GOVERNOR’S PROCLAMATION---A means by which the Governor may call an extra or special session of the Legislature.
GRANDFATHER CLAUSE---Laws providing new or additional professional qualifications often contain a clause exempting persons presently practicing an affected profession from having to comply.
HEARING---Public discussions and appearance on a proposal which may be scheduled by a committee.
HOPPER---A depository for bills filed for introduction.
HOUSE---A legislative body, more commonly known as the House of Representatives.
IMPEACHMENT---Procedure to remove from public office public officials accused of misconduct.
INDEFINITE POSTPONEMENT---A form of final adverse disposition of a proposal for that session of the Legislature.
INTERIM---The interval between regular sessions.
INTRODUCTION (FIRST READING)---The formal presentation of a proposal after it has been drafted by the Legislative Council.
INVOCATION---Prayer given prior to session.
JOINT ASSEMBLY---Meeting of House and Senate in House chamber by Joint Resolution, for specific purpose, such as elections, speeches, etc.
JOINT RULES---Rules governing procedure of Senate and House when meeting in Joint Assembly and other relations between the two bodies.
JOURNAL, DAILY---Contains a brief record of the previous day’s proceedings, including roll call votes, remarks made by Members that are ordered to be printed, and a general description of action taken on all legislation considered that day. Printed daily and placed on the Member’s desks before the start of the following day’s session.
JOURNAL, PERMANENT---Official chronological record of proceedings of the Senate and House, compiled from daily journals, indexed, printed and bound at the close of each session. Indexed by author, bill number, subject matter and general information including committee appointments, interim committees etc.
LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL---Attorneys and other Professionals involved in the bill drafting process and legislative research.
LEGISLATIVE DIRECTORY AND STATE MANUAL---Published each biennium by the Secretary of State who serves as Editor. It contains detailed information on State government as well as pictures and biographical data of Members & Officials of the General Assembly. It also contains biographical data of the members of the Judiciary, Constitutional Officers and many members of the Executive Branch.
LEGISLATOR---Elected member of a legislative body.
LEGISLATURE---The branch of State Government responsible for enacting laws.
LOBBYIST---A representative of a special interest group whose function is to influence legislation affecting the special interest group.
MAJORITY LEADER---A member of the majority party designated to be its leader.
MEMBERS ELECT---Members elected but not having taken the path of office or officially serving.
MEMBERS PRESENT---The term used to refer to those Members who are actually present at a daily session.
MESSAGE---An official communication from one house to the other or from the Governor to the Legislature, usually transmitting bills, resolutions or information regarding them; they become part of the official Journal.
MICROPHONES---Located on each desk in the House, to be used by Members when addressing the Speaker or in debate. These are controlled by switches at the members’ desk and should be turned off when the Member is not speaking. The microphone should be held approximately two inches from the mouth, speaking clearly.
MINORITY LEADER---A member of the minority party designated to be its leader.
MINUTES---Accurate record of the proceedings of a meeting in chronological order.
MOTION---Formal proposal offered by a Member of a deliberative assembly.
NON-CONCURRENCE---When one house refuses to agree with the other house on a bill, resolution or amendment.
NON-DEBATABLE---Those subjects or motions that cannot be debated or discussed.
OATH OF OFFICE---Oath taken by members-elect of the Legislature prior to being seated and embarking upon official duties.
ORDER TO LIE---A means of disposing of a bill or resolution (the bill was “ordered to lie” i.e. tabled).
OUT OF ORDER---Not being conducted under proper parliamentary rules and procedures.
PAGES---Pages are students, usually in the eighth grade. Pages are appointed by the Sergeant at Arms and are under his supervision. There are three teams of ten and each team works for approximately six weeks. They are available to assist members and may be summoned by the tapping of a pen or pencil. Pages supply extra copies of bills, Journals, Calendars; pass messages amongst Members and run miscellaneous errands.
PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY---Question posed to the Speaker for clarification of a point in a proceeding.
PASSAGE OF A BILL---Favorable action on a measure before either house.
PENDING QUESTION---The matter under consideration at the present time.
PER DIEM--- Literally, per day; daily expense money rendered legislators.
PETITION---Formal request submitted by an individual or group to the Legislature.
POINT OF ORDER---A statement by a Member calling attention to an alleged breach of order or parliamentary procedure.
POINT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE---A statement defending the rights, reputation or conduct of a legislator in his or her official capacity.
POSTPONE INDEFINITELY---A means of disposing of an issue and not setting a date to again consider it.
POSTPONE TO A TIME CERTAIN---To defer consideration to a definite later time or day.
PRECEDENT---Interpretation of rulings by presiding officers on specific rules; also unwritten rules which are established by custom.
PRESIDENT---By constitutional enactment, the Lieutenant Governor is the presiding officer of the Senate and is referred to while presiding as “Mr. President.”
PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE--- The person elected by the Senate to have the same powers as the President in the latter’s absence.
PRESIDING OFFICER---Person designated to preside at a legislative session (usually the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor).
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR---Permission granted to a non-member of the body to be in that portion of the legislative chamber during session that is reserved for members and staff personnel. (House rule 84).
PROCEDURE---Rules and traditional practices of the respective houses of the Legislature.
QUORUM---The required number of Members present to transact business which is usually 76 in the House and 16 in the Senate.
READING CLERK---An officer who assists the Clerk by reading bills, messages and resolutions etc. at the desk.
REAPPORTIONMENT---Re-division of the State into equal legislative districts based on the most recent census.
RETURN CUSTODY OF A BILL---A motion which returns a bill to the House or Senate for further consideration.
RECEDE---Withdraw from an amendment or position on a matter.
RECESS---Intermission in a daily session.
RECOMMIT---To send back to committee.
RECONSIDERATION---A process whereby a measure previously adopted or defeated can be re-opened and acted on again. The motion must be made on the next legislative day.
REFERRAL---The sending or referring of a bill to committee.
REGULAR ORDER OF BUSINESS---The established sequence of business set up for each legislative day, also referred to as the “Orders of the day.”
REGULATION---A rule or order of an agency of the state promulgated under the authority of a statute passed by the Legislature.
REJECTION---An action which defeats a bill, motion or other matter.
REPORT---Written notice to the House or Senate of action taken in committee on bills.
REPRESENTATIVE---A member of the House of Representatives.
RESOLUTION, JOINT---Affects the action of the General Assembly and the members thereof: is not used for general legislation; is used to express sentiments of the legislature, for authorizing use of funds appropriated to the General Assembly and for other incidental purposes. (House rules 52 & 53 and Senate rules 51 & 52)
RESOLUTION, HOUSE OR SENATE---Same as joint resolution, except it is the expression on one house.
REVENUE---Yield of taxes and other sources of income the State collects.
ROLL CALL---The vote on an issue by the alphabetical calling of the members names.
ROSTER (LIST OF MEMBERS)---Booklet containing names and addresses of members, officers and districts of each house for the current session,
RULES---Methods of legislative procedure; Joint Rules govern both houses, and House or Senate rules regulate only the one house.
SENATE---A legislative body, usually the body in a bicameral legislature having the fewer number of members (the Vermont Senate has 30 members).
SENIORITY---A custom sometimes used in making committee assignments. A recognition of prior legislative service in appointing committee chairmen or party leaders in a legislature.
SERGEANT-AT-ARMS---An officer of the legislature elected by the Representatives and Senators to maintain order as well as maintenance and upkeep of the Statehouse.
SESSION---The formal continuous convening of the Legislature, from the first legislative day to the day of final adjournment (sine die)
SINE DIE---Adjournment “without day” being set for reconvening; Final adjournment.
SPEAKER---Presiding officer of the House, elected by that body.
SPECIAL ORDER---Matter of business set for a special time and day.
SPONSOR---Legislator who is an author of a bill or amendment.
STAND AT EASE---A term referring to that situation in which the House or Senate does not recess or adjourn but suspends its deliberations for indeterminate periods of time.
STANDING COMMITTEE---Regular committees of the Legislature, set up by the rules of the House or Senate (the Vermont House has 15 and the Vermont Senate has 12 standing committees).
STATE THE QUESTION---To place a question before the legislative body for its consideration.
STATUS OF A BILL---The progress of a bill at any given time in the legislative process. It can be in committee, on the Calendar, in the other house, etc.
STRIKE OUT---The deletion of language from a bill or resolution.
SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATION---Adjustments of funds allocated over the original appropriation.
TERM OF OFFICE---Duration of office of an elected official.
TITLE---A concise statement of the contents of a bill.
UNCONTESTED---Refers to a piece of legislation which is not objected to by any member of the House.
UNICAMERAL---A single body legislature (Nebraska is the only state that has only one House at this time).
VETO---The action of a Governor in disapproval of a measure; on its return to the Legislature, each house either sustains the veto or overrides it.
VETO OVERRIDE---To pass a bill over the Governor’s veto which requires a 2/3rd vote of the members present of each house.
VOICE VOTE---Oral expression of the Members when a question is submitted for their determination. Response is given by “ayes” and “nays” and the presiding officer states his or her decision as to which side prevailed.
VOTE---Formal expression of will or decision by the body.
VOTE, DIVISION---To vote by standing.
VOTE, ROLL CALL---Alphabetical calling of the members to vote which is recorded in the Journal.
WITHDRAW A BILL OR MOTION---To recall or remove a bill or motion according to parliamentary procedure.
WITHOUT RECOMMENDATION---A committee report which is neither favorable nor unfavorable.
YEAS AND NAYS---Recorded vote of members on an issue (same as a roll call vote).
YIELD---The relinquishing of the floor to another Member to speak or ask a question.