How a Bill Becomes a Law
Vermont's General Assembly
Vermont has a citizen legislature that meets part-time - from
January to late spring every year. Many members have other
jobs as teachers, farmers, lawyers or real estate agents from
which they take partial leave during the session.
Vermont's General Assembly is bicameral, meaning it consists
of two houses - the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The one hundred-fifty members of the House of Representatives
are elected every two years. Each represents approximately
3,500 citizens. The thirty senators are also elected every
two years. Senatorial districts are made up of one or more
counties, so that each senator represents an approximately
equal number of residents (17,000-18,000).
The General Assembly enacts and may also repeal laws. (In
some other states, laws can be made directly by the people,
through initiative or referendum. Vermont has no provision
for referenda, except as part of the process to amend the
state constitution or an issue can be put on the ballot if
the Legislature voted to do so.)
An idea for a bill may come from any number of sources: a
legislator, the governor or an executive agency, a citizen
or group, municipal officials or businesses. A bill can be
written by anyone, although all bills are given by a legislator
to the Legislative Council, whose staff then write the proposal.
Bills must be sponsored by a member of the General Assembly
in order to be submitted and considered.
Bills may originate in either house (with one exception:
all revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives).
After being introduced, or read for the first time, a bill
is assigned to a committee in the house where it was introduced.
The permanent committees are called standing committees.
Standing committees may hold public hearings or committee
hearings, at which interested individuals and representatives
of groups and businesses express their opinions on a bill.
Following testimony and discussion, the committee will evaluate,
often amend, and make recommendations on the bill. Sometimes
special committees are formed to consider a particular topic;
for example, in 1988 a House Committee on Growth was appointed
to study all growth and development legislation.
A committee may then vote a bill out favorably, unfavorably
or without any recommendation, or table the bill, which kills
it in committee. A bill may go through this process in one
or more committees before being read the second time on the
floor of the house in which it originated.
After going through the committee process the bill is sent
to the floor. If it passes "Second Reading," a floor debate
may occur and the bill is read the third time, usually on
the day following the debate. If the vote is favorable, the
bill will be read again the next day (third reading) - the
last vote in this stage of the process.
If the bill passes in the house where it was introduced,
it goes to the other chamber to begin the same process over
again. When a bill has passed both the House and Senate, but
in different versions because of amendments, the two chambers
try to agree on a single version by appointing a conference
committee, with three members from each house.
A majority of the members of each house constitutes a quorum
(except that at least two-thirds of the members of the House
must be present for a vote on a tax bill). Measures are passed
by a majority of those present and voting.
Bills may be amended in first one and then the other house.
All bills must pass through both houses before being sent
to the governor for action.
The Governor can sign the bill into law or veto it.. A two-thirds
majority in both houses is required to override a veto. When
the Governor signs a bill, it becomes law. A bill can also
become law if the Governor does not return it to the General
Assembly within five days (Sundays excepted). If, however,
the General Assembly adjourns within three days of the presentation
of the bill, preventing the return of the bill, it shall not
become law without the Governor's signature.
In an average two-year session, or biennium, about 1,000
bills are introduced. Generally about a third of those pass
and are signed into law.
General Assembly Officials
The Legislative Council was established in 1965 to provide
professional staff to support and assist legislators. Officially,
the council is composed of the president pro tem of the Senate,
the Speaker of the House, three senators and three representatives;
but the name Legislative Council has now also come to refer
to the staff hired by the Council. The staff consists of 8
lawyers, 3 researchers and 11 full-time aides. They research
and draft bills for legislators.
The Joint Fiscal Office provides staff support on all the
budgetary and financial matters to the Joint Fiscal Committee
of the legislature. The Sergeant atArms, appointed by the
Legislature, has charge of the State House, including many
of the State House employees and pages.
Administrative support and other services to legislators
are provided by the Senate Secretary and the House Clerk and
Where to Write or Call
Mail can be sent to legislators in care of the State House,
Montpelier, VT 05602.
If you wish to get a residential address for your legislators,
this information can be obtained from your town clerk or the
Secretary of State at 1-800-439-8683 or 1-802-828-2363.
If you wish to speak to a legislator, you may leave a message
with the Sergeant at Arms, (802) 828-2228 or (800) 322-5616.
Letters to the governor can be directed to the Governor's
Office, 109 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05602. To reach this
office by phone, you can try the hotline at 1-800-642-3131
How a Bill Becomes a Law