A number of bills worked onto the House floor this week, where members debated their merits. We took up bills spanning all of the 14 House committees’ policy areas. Most bills passed with broad, tripartisan support. Consensus is the product of many hours spent in committee, where bills are thoroughly vetted before proceeding to the floor.
Generally speaking, debates at the State House are civil and wide ranging. Sometimes I get questioned about how the legislative process works. What follows is a summary of how things move through the floor process.
A bill is presented to the House by a member of the Committee called the “reporter.” The reporter is selected by the committee’s Chairperson to move the bill through debate. The reporter preps a report and shares it with the House. Representatives with questions may “interrogate” the reporter, clarifying their questions or concerns.
Depending on how broad a bill is, it may have several relevant committees beyond its primary committee of jurisdiction. It is common for multiple committees to report on a complex bill. For instance, the money committees are obligated to weigh in if a bill impacts the revenues or spending of the state. There are procedures and processes to ensure this happens according to the rules of the House.
We deal with all types of bills. Floor debates sometimes get rowdy. The process is designed to de-escalate and depersonalize debate. Representatives do not interrogate each other face-to-face. Instead, we direct our comments to and through the Speaker. This calms debate and allows for a civil dialogue.
Ultimately, Representatives vote based upon the recommendations of committees, debates, and amendments. Votes are sometimes taken by what is called a “voice vote,” when all members vote yay or nay at the same time. Votes can also be taken by “rollcall,” which is when each member votes individually, having their vote recorded for posterity. One final form of vote is called “division.” A division is a vote whereby members must stand to indicate whether they vote yes or no. A division provides an overall vote total for the record, but does not indicate how each member voted — that only is made available through a rollcall vote.
You can track the legislature’s progress by browsing the Vermont General Assembly’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov. You can easily follow bills, and the committee process. For instance, the Education Committee page contains agendas, documents provided through testimony, and bills in committee. Browse around and be in touch if you have any questions.