Adventures of Bill: The Real life story of How a Vermont
Bill Becomes a Law
Learn about how a bill becomes a law in Vermont with The
Adventures of Bill. The Adventures of Bill is a comic-like booklet
designed for middle school students that makes learning about Vermont's Legislative process
a whole lot of fun! Students will discover just how many
people it takes to make a bill become a law and see how
they can become involved.
Copies of these booklets are available to schools
and homeschoolers free of charge as part of their curriculum on Vermont history
Click here to order or click here to read the pdf version!
For information on touring the Vermont State House or
participating in the legislative role-play program, pay a visit our
State House Tours page!
How a Bill Becomes
a Vermont Law...
...it all starts
with an idea...an idea which could be yours!
Three Branches of Government
The founders of Vermont, like the
founders of the United States, wanted to ensure that there was
a strong government, but they did not want any one individual
or group to become too powerful. Therefore, in the
Vermont Constitution they established a government with three
separate branches. Each branch of government operates
independently from the others, and its power serves as a check
and balance for the powers of the other branches. This
ensures that no one branch can take too much control.
This is called the "separation of powers."
The three branches of
- The executive branch administers and enforces the laws
passed by the legislature. The Governor is the head of
the executive branch and oversees the many state agencies that
do the work of the state government.
- The courts interpret the meaning of laws and apply
those laws to specific cases. The court can also
invalidate a law if it finds that it is inconsistent with the
Legislative - The legislature adopts laws. Some
laws establish rules and policies that govern our behavior,
such as criminal laws or environmental laws. Other laws
establish how the government will spend tax money (the budget
bill), and how those taxes will be raised (the tax bill).
Different laws are made every year to respond to the changing
needs of Vermonters.
How Vermont Laws are Made...
Vermont's laws are prepared and
adopted by legislators who are elected every two years by
people in their communities. Vermont's
session runs from January until any time between mid-April and
early June, depending upon when the legislators finish their
Vermont's legislature is
bicameral, meaning that it has two chambers: the
of Representatives and the Senate. A bill can be
introduced in either chamber (except for spending bills which
can only start in the House). In order for it to become
a law, both chambers must pass the bill with a majority of the
vote, and the Governor must sign it or allow the bill to
become a law without signature.
It All Starts With an Idea...
All laws get their start as
someone's idea. An idea begins as a bill, and once it is
approved by the House and the Senate and the Governor, it
becomes a law. An idea for a bill may come from anybody;
however, only legislators can introduce a bill in Vermont's
legislature. There is always a way to get a bill
introduced if enough legislators support it.
Usually resolutions honor
individuals or organizations, or express the opinion of the
legislature on issues before the United States Congress or
other national or international bodies. Resolutions can
be done jointly between the House and Senate, or they can be
made concurrently by each body. Simple resolutions come
from only one of the bodies of the legislature.
Legislators take ideas for laws
and ask the Legislative Council to write them up as bills.
Once they are prepared, bills can be introduced in the House
or the Senate - except for spending ($$$) bills which start in
the House as required by the Vermont Constitution.
The Idea Becomes a Bill...
A legislator or committee of
legislators must officially introduce the bill by becoming the
bill's sponsor. Representatives and Senators who sponsor
bills will try to gain support for them by getting others to
sign on as additional sponsors of the bill.
The title of the bill is read
during a session of the House or Senate. This is called
"first reading" of the bill.
Legislators are members of
legislative committees. Committees address different
areas such as education, agriculture, and transportation,
among others. After a bill is introduced, it is assigned
to a committee by the Speaker of the House or by the
Lieutenant Governor. The
President Pro Tempore of the
Senate assigns the bill to a committee if the Lieutenant
Governor is unavailable.
Goes to Committee...
Committees may hold
invite members of the public and lobbyists to provide
information and express their opinions on a bill. This
is the only time the public can give testimony on a bill,
although throughout the process members of the public and
lobbyists can talk or write to individual legislators to try
to persuade them to support, reject, or change a bill.
Following testimony and
discussion, the committee will decide what to do with the
bill. The committees
often make changes to the bill which is referred to as
"marking up the bill."
The Bill Leaves
Next, the committee decides what
to do with the bill. It can pass a bill out
without any recommendations; or it can
the bill or choose not to discuss a bill (both of which mean
that the bill dies in committee).
Depending upon what the
bill is about, a second committee (or even a third committee)
can ask that the bill be sent to it for discussion and
amendment (or to kill the bill).
The Bill is
Read on the Floor for a 2nd and 3rd Time...
Every bill gets debated and voted on twice by each chamber
of the legislature. After going through the entire
process, the bill (as amended by the committee) is sent to the
floor for second reading, debate, and
a bill is reported for the second or third time on the floor
by the reporter of the House or Senate, it is put on the
notice calendar to warn legislators, lobbyists, and the public
when it will be debated and voted upon.
After the second
reading and before the legislators vote on the bill, a
debate may occur. Legislators argue in favor of or
against the bill and they can propose amendments to the bill.
The Speaker or Lieutenant Governor will only allow amendments
that are germane.
Debate, Amend, and Vote on the Bill...
Legislators may ask members of the committee to explain parts
of the bill. Sometimes the House or Senate will
in the middle of a debate on a bill. During the recess
members of the public, lobbyists, and legislators try to
convince other legislators to vote in support of or against
When the legislators are satisfied that there has
been sufficient debate, they can call for a vote on the bill.
If the bill is controversial, legislators can call for a
call vote. A non-controversial bill has votes cast by
voice vote (("all in favor say 'aye'").
If the bill passes
second reading and the majority of legislators vote yes on the
bill, it is then put on the notice calendar for third reading
where additional debate may occur. After the third
reading, no amendments can be made to the bill. Then a
final vote is taken on the bill.
If the bill passes, it is
sent by the House Clerk and Secretary of the Senate to the
other chamber of Vermont's legislature. For example,
House bills will be sent to the Senate and Senate bills will
be sent to the House. If the vote is no, then the bill
has been killed.
Goes to the Second Chamber...
When a bill
passes the House it is then sent to the Senate, and
vice-versa. In the new chamber it is given first reading
then it is referred to a committee.
The committee can choose
whether they want to work on the bill or ignore it, just like
in the committees of the first chamber. The public,
lobbyists, and legislators are once again given an opportunity
to comment on the proposal. During this time, the
committee can amend or even kill the bill.
committee has completed its consideration of the bill it can
choose to send it on to the floor for a vote, unless it is
sent to another committee for additional review.
As in the
first chamber, the bill is given second reading and is debated
and perhaps amended. Finally, it is given a third
reading and a final vote by the second chamber.
The Bill Goes
to Conference Committee and is Given a Final
If members of
the House and Senate pass two bills that are exactly the same,
it is sent to the Governor for signature. If the bill
that passed the House is in any way different from the bill
that was passed by the Senate (perhaps because it was amended
by the committee or on the floor) then a
is appointed to try to come up with a compromise that members
of both the House and Senate would agree upon.
conference committee comes up with a compromise, the bill is
sent back to the House and the Senate for a final vote.
Individual legislators can vote in favor of or against the
bill or they may abstain from voting. If the bill passes
with a majority of the vote in both chambers, it is sent to
Goes to the Governor
When a bill goes to the Governor, the Governor must choose
whether to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become a law
without a signature.
If the Governor vetoes the bill, the
House and the Senate can vote to override the veto. It
takes a vote of 2/3 of the legislators in each chamber to
override a veto. When the Governor signs the bill, it
becomes a law. If the Governor does not sign the bill
and does not veto it within five days after receiving it, it
also becomes a law.
Generally, bills can be introduced only
during the early part of the legislative session. Bills
that are not passed within the two-year legislative session
cannot be carried forward to the next legislative session,
although a legislator can decide to reintroduce a bill.
Words to Know
Abstain: To choose not to
A legislature with two separate chambers, each of which
participate in the making and adoption of laws.
Bill: A bill is a proposed law.
A conference committee is made up of three senators and three
representatives who are appointed by the leadership of their
Dies in committee
(Kill the Bill): A bill that dies in committee is not
returned to the House or Senate for debate and/or vote.
Floor Debate: Before a bill is
voted on, legislators debate the bill by arguing in favor or
against the bill. They also offer amendments.
Germane: Germane means "related
to." An amendment is not germane if it is unrelated to the
purpose of the bill.
Hearings: Meetings of a committee
where the public is invited to comment on proposed
legislation, public issues or policy decisions.
and Secretary of the Senate: The House Clerk and
Secretary of the Senate are elected by the legislators to help
keep track of bills, resolutions, votes, and the proceedings
of the legislators, and to prepare calendars and journals.
House of Representatives:
There are 150 representatives that make up the Vermont House
and they each represent about 4,000 citizens.
Introduce: The first formal step
in the process of lawmaking. A bill is introduced to the
House or Senate for consideration and then sent to a committee
A small group of legislators appointed to meet and discuss
bills of a particular topic or type (e.g. Agricultural
Legislative Council: A
team of lawyers and administrative staff who work with
legislators to write bills and laws.
The months in which legislators meet to discuss and pass laws
for each of the two years. (A new legislature is elected
every two years for a new legislative session).
Elected by the voters. He or she presides over the Senate
unless he or she is Acting Governor (in the event of the death
or incapacity of the Governor and when the Governor is out of
Lobbyists: Individuals who are
paid or who spend over $500 to influence legislators to pass
or prevent passage of particular laws and policies. Lobbyists
often work closely with legislators to help shape bills.
Mark-up: To amend or make changes
to a bill while it is in committee.
Notice calendar: The notice
calendar is published every day by the Legislative Council.
It lists all the bills that are going to be debated and voted
on the following day.
favorably with amendment: A committee vote to return
the bill to the House or Senate with a recommendation that it
be approved with changes made by the committee.
Passed out favorably:
A committee vote to return the bill to the House or Senate
with a recommendation that it be approved.
Passed out unfavorably:
A committee vote to return the bill to the House or Senate
with a recommendation that it not be approved.
President Pro Tempore:
Serves in the Lieutenant Governor's place in his or her
absence. Elected by members of the Senate.
Recess: A break from the meeting of
the House or Senate.
Reporter: A legislator who is a
member of the committee that is bringing the bill to the floor
for a vote.
Resolution: A resolution is a
declaration of the legislative body.
Roll Call Vote: When there
is a roll call vote, the House Clerk or Secretary of the
Senate reads off each legislator's name, and they answer Yea,
Nay, or they can abstain (which means they do not vote). Only
with a roll call vote will the public know how individual
legislators voted on a particular bill.
Second reading: When the
title of a bill is read on the floor of the House or Senate
for the second time. (The first time is when it is
Senate: There are 30 senators in
Vermont. Each senator represents about 20,000 people in a
senatorial district (one or more counties).
Speaker of the House:
Leader elected by the House of Representatives.
Sponsors: Legislators who propose
Table the bill: A bill that
is tabled is kept in committee so that it never goes to a vote
by the House or Senate. It can be called up again at any
Testimony: Statements made by
people who participate in a legislative hearing.
Third reading: When a bill is
read by title on the floor of the House or Senate for the
third time. After third reading there is a final vote on the
Veto: A veto is when the Governor
decides not to sign a bill into law. The bill returns to the
legislature where each house decides to sustain the veto or
recommendations: A bill that is sent back to the
House or Senate for vote without a committee recommendation.
This generally only happens when the committee cannot agree on
what recommendations to make.