Getting to know your state legislature

Posted on 3/2/2017 by Robin Scheu

Getting to know your state legislature

ACEDC board and staff members at the statehouse

Getting to know your state legislature

The ACEDC board recently met at the Vermont Statehouse for its monthly meeting. A small but determined group braved bad weather and difficult roads to get there. (Thank you!) As part of the meeting, they not only received a brief tour of the building (see photo), but also a tour of the General Assembly website. There is a wealth of information to be found there so the board asked me to dedicate the next blog post to giving others a virtual tour.

First, here is the link to the website. This accessible site enables all Vermonters to follow the work of the legislature, read the status of a bill and tune in on issues of interest. These are live pages and are updated regularly.

Some of the obvious things you can find here include:

  • Your legislator. By entering a name or town in the search function, you will come to a photo, bio, and contact information for any legislator.
  • Committees. Click on the Committees tab and then on the specific House or Senate committee you want to check out. You’ll find a description of what the committee is responsible for, the committee members (you can click on their names to get to their bio from this page), a link to the agenda for the week, and links to all the documents that have and will be discussed in that committee. (Check back for updates if you are looking for something specific.)
  • Specific bills. All bills have a letter and a number for identification purposes. Bills can start in either the house or the Senate. If a bill starts in the House, the bill is labeled H.xxx. Likewise, a Senate bill is S.xxx. The numbering starts with 1 and goes from there. In the House thus far, nearly 500 bills have been introduced. Obviously, not all bills will become law. Many bills don’t make it further than the committee it is assigned to and some will get combined into a larger bill. H.163 is a workforce housing bill that was introduced again this year in the House. We hope some version of it makes it to the end of the session! You can find the bill by entering H.163 in the search function at the top of the home page.
  • Reaching a legislator. If you want to get a message to your legislator, you can send an email or call the Sergeant-at-Arms’ Office. They’ll take a message and have a page deliver it to the legislator of your choice. It really works!

Other interesting information to be found:

  • How a bill becomes law
  • The Vermont Statutes
  • The Constitution of the State of Vermont. Definitely worth a read. For example, Article 14 states: “The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever.
  • The Joint Fiscal Office. The JFO provides nonpartisan financial analyses and staff support on a myriad of fiscal topics. All of their research and reports are available online for anyone to read or print out. If you want to read the Vermont Tax Study that’s produced every 10 years, you can do so here. Or the Vermont population by age group over time. Want to see a Benefits and Minimum Wage study in draft form? That’s here, too. How about the Governor’s budget? Or State Spending as a Share of GSP? And there is much more information. Check it out!
  • Farmer’s Night Concert Series. This series is a longstanding State House tradition. Artists from around the state, in genres ranging from classical music (think VSO) to bluegrass to barbershop perform in the well of the House Chamber every Wednesday night during the legislative session. These performances are free and open to the public.

The Vermont Statehouse promotes itself as “the people’s house” and it truly is. The public is welcome any time the building is open and there are people there to answer your questions and even give you a tour. As the only working statehouse that is also a museum, it’s a pretty special and unique place.

If you’re coming to Montpelier during the legislative session, or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me or any legislator you know. I hope to see you there!