By REP. LORI HOUGHTON
“I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here (in Montpelier)”. These lyrics by Dave Frishberg aired in 1975 on SchoolHouse Rock – have been playing in our house recently. Although I haven’t sung the song to others, I have been talking with children and adults alike about how a bill becomes law.
So how does a bill become a law? Any legislator from either chamber may sponsor a bill. The legislator works with Legislative Council to draft the bill, then the bill is introduced on the floor of the sponsor’s chamber during first reading. The bill is assigned to a committee based on the bill’s subject matter.
If the committee decides to pursue the bill (a bill doesn’t have to be taken up), the committee may take testimony on and recommend amendments to the bill. The committee votes on whether to pass the bill out of committee. Once the bill is voted out of all appropriate committees it is sent to the chamber floor for second reading. A member of the committee will report on the committee’s recommendations; members of the chamber may propose amendments to the bill; and the bill and any amendments are debated. The chamber will take majority votes on any amendments and whether to read the bill a third time. Third reading happens the next legislative day and is another chance for members of the chamber to propose amendments and debate the bill. Then the chamber votes.
Once passed the bill moves to the other chamber for the same process. If the second chamber passes the bill with any amendments, the bill must go back to the first chamber for consideration. If the two chambers are unable to agree on the bill, a committee of conference may be appointed in which three members of each chamber will attempt to reach agreement on a final version which is submitted to both chambers for approval. The chambers cannot amend this version and will adopt or reject it by majority vote.
If both chambers agree on a final version, the bill passes and it is sent to the Governor who may sign it into law, allow it to become law without signature or veto it. Once one of the first two possibilities happen, or the chambers override the veto by a two-thirds vote, the bill becomes an official law of Vermont and is assigned an act number.
Residents and advocates may provide feedback to their legislators throughout the process, attend committee hearings and chamber votes.
For more information on providing constituent feedback visit www.lorihoughton.com Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve Essex Junction.