A Citizens' Guide To The Legislature

Jan 5, 2016

After the Speaker of the House kicks off the legislative session with the crack of a gavel, Vermont’s citizen Legislature kicks off a four-month frenzy of governing. The media makes an effort to track the Legislature’s handling of important issues, a vast number of the bills moving through the legislative process at a given time don’t get much press coverage.

That doesn’t mean the public is stuck in the dark; the Legislature’s website has plenty of information to help the citizens and advocates understand what lawmakers are doing and provides the information needed to give feedback and make their voices heard under the golden dome.

Bill Tracker

The Legislature deals with hundreds of bills each year, and citizens can track the progress of each of them. So if you, like the good people of Wardsboro, are wondering why the Gilfeather turnip still isn’t the Vermont state vegetable, you can figure out what happened to the bill that would have made it so. Just go to the Legislature’s website and type “Gilfeather turnip” into the bill or resolution search bar. Or if you know the bill number (H.65 in this case), just type that in.

The bill tracker can show you – right at the top of the bill’s page – where the bill is, so you know which committee’s schedule to check to see when it is being discussed, or you know which lawmaker to contact about why it hasn’t moved forward.

Schedules

Much of the action in the Legislature happens in committees. That’s where lawmakers take testimony from experts about the bills and subjects they’re considering, and where many bills take their final shape.

If a bill’s tracker page shows that it’s in committee, the next step is to figure out when the committee is considering the bill. Go to the Legislature’s page on all scheduled committee meetings, then find the committee that’s working on the bill in question. In the case of the Gilfeather turnip bill, it’s in the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, and the agenda for that committee, it will say “H.65” and list a time for discussion of the bill and a brief description of what’s happening. If the committee plans to hear testimony, the agenda will name the people testifying.

Studies

Another place to find information on important topics on the Legislature’s radar is in the "reports and research" section of the legislature’s website. This is where all reports that the Legislature has required go. These can be progress reports on the implementation of a new law, budget information from various agencies or feasibility studies for policies the legislature is considering.

All of these reports are public and are available on the Reports and Research page when they’re submitted to the Legislature.

Contacting Lawmakers

If you know the name of the lawmaker you want to reach, click the “Legislator” above the search bar on the Legislature’s website and type in the name of the lawmaker. If you don’t know your local lawmaker’s name, you can also search by town. So if people in Wardsboro want to ask their legislator about the Gilfeather turnip bill, they can simply type “Wardsboro” into the search, and they’re given a list of lawmakers representing Wardsboro. Clicking a lawmaker’s name reveals a photo, contact information, a list of committees the legislator serves on and a short bio.