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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´┐Ż or an issue can be put on the ballot if the Legislature voted to do so.)

Legislative Process
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).´┐Ż 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 their staff.

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 or 1-802-828-3333.

How a Bill Becomes a Law
Flow chart: How a bill becomes a Law

 

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