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How to Find Out How Your Legislator Voted

How the Legislative Process Works

Finding the Vote You Are Looking For

Case History: The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Bill, 2008

Additional Facts to Understand

Summaries of acts passed by the Legislature

Voter Report Cards

How to Find How Much Legislators are Paid

How to Find Out How Your Legislator Voted

Finding out how your Senator or Representative voted is an important part of transparent government. To do that you first have to have an understanding of the legislative process itself. (If you are familiar with the process, skip ahead to the following section.)


How the Legislative Process Works

First, a Member or a committee introduces a Bill or Resolution. You can find all the bills a given Member or committee introduced by going to the state legislative web site, selecting the name of the Member or committee, and clicking "All". Then you can scroll down and select the bill of interest, listed only by title, and click to read the bill.

Upon introduction, called "first reading by title", a bill is almost always assigned to the Committee that handles that type of bill (agriculture, finance, health and welfare, etc.)

Most bills die in Committees. If the Committee chooses to report the bill to the full House or Senate for action, it usually contains Committee amendments. Sometimes it becomes a "strike-all" -- the Committee votes to replace the entire original text with a new text that often differs significantly from the original language.

Then the Committee members vote to report the bill to the House or Senate. The reported text of the bill and any amendments are then published in the daily Calendar for Notice. After at least one legislative day of Notice, the Bill is advanced to the Action Calendar. When its turn comes the presiding officer will call the bill up for floor debate, amendments, and ultimately a vote.

Late in the session the Calendar may get clogged with bills waiting for Action, so a bill may not be called up for floor Action for several days. Sometimes the House or Senate leadership will leapfrog a bill on the Calendar for action ahead of others waiting in sequence. Other times it will send a Bill to a second or even a third Committee to consider it from another perspective (or bury it forever).

Committees of the U.S Congress are required to publish a report explaining the contents of a Bill coming out of a Committee, as are many state legislatures. The Vermont legislature does not require reports, so members, the news media and public often have to guess just what the bill does, especially when it amends existing laws.

When the Bill's turn for floor action comes, the presiding officer takes it up from the Calendar and it is "read the second time" by title. One member of the Committee is designated as the Reporter of the bill. He or she explains what the bill does and why the Committee recommends its passage.

The members first vote on the Committee's proposed amendments, if any. Then they vote on amendments offered by individual Members. Finally they vote on whether to "advance the bill (as amended) to third reading". A negative vote at this point kills the Bill.

The following legislative day the Bill appears on the Action Calendar "for third reading". Members may offer more amendments before third reading. Then the bill is read the third time, and the question is, "Shall the bill pass?" (Amendments may be offered after third reading only with a ¾ vote to suspend the rules.)

Members then vote yea or nay on the amended bill. The vote may be by voice, by standing division of the chamber, or by roll call. Only a Member's roll call vote is on the record.

If the bill passes in its chamber of origin, it then goes to the other chamber and appears in like fashion on its Calendar for first reading, assignment to a committee, committee action, publication in the Calendar, and floor action.

If, say, the Senate passes the bill in a different form from the House-passed version, it sends the amended Bill back to the House. The House may concur in the Senate amendments, reject the Senate version and ask for a committee of conference to reach a compromise, or (rarely) just drop the bill altogether.

If it chooses the Committee of Conference, three members from each chamber meet and negotiate. If they reach at least a 4-2 agreement, the bill goes back to the two chambers for approval of the Report of the Committee of Conference. If both Chambers approve the conference committee's version, the bill goes on to the Governor for his signature or veto.

If the Governor vetoes a bill, it is returned to its chamber of origin, where the leadership may put it on the Calendar for an override vote (2/3 required). If one Chamber successfully overrides, the bill goes to the other chamber. If the override is successful there, the bill becomes law. If the override fails in either Chamber, the bill is dead.

It's important to remember that most bills change as they move through the legislative process. The legislative web site allows you to review the bill as introduced, the bill as passed by the House, the bill as passed by the Senate, the bill as sent to the Governor for his action, and the text of the law if approved.

Sometimes the most important roll call vote is on an amendment to a bill reported by a Committee. To figure out what an amendment means, it's necessary to first look at the text of the bill being considered at that point by the chamber. This may be the bill as introduced, but more often it's the bill as reported with Committee amendments. Once the members adopt the Committee amendments, you have to relate the floor amendment to the text of the bill as now amended by the Committee amendments. The Committee amendments are published in the Calendar when the bill is reported for floor action.

All action taken by the House or Senate is reported in the Journals of the respective chambers, available, along with the Calendars, on the legislative web site.

Members of each Chamber are allowed to explain their roll call votes. These statements, appearing after the roll calls in the Journals, are often self-serving and not fully coherent, but they may at least indicate what the debate was about.


Finding the Vote You Are Looking For

Voting on the House and Senate floors may be by voice vote, division (standing vote), or roll call. Only the roll call allows a citizen to ascertain how a given Member voted. The roll call votes for individual members are revealed by clicking on "details" after the legislature's web site indication of the vote.

The hard part is understanding exactly what it was that Members voted upon. The Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate publish Roll Call Vote booklets after the adjournment of each session. These -- especially the Senate's -- can be maddeningly vague.

If the bill is a major piece of legislation like the bill that became Act 60 in 1997 or the civil unions bill of 2000, the vote on accepting the report of the Committee of Conference in each chamber can fairly be said to define a Member's position on the issue. Nonetheless, many important bills may contain provisions that many Members disapprove of, even though they (perhaps reluctantly) voted for the bill as a whole. These provisions may have been the subject of an unsuccessful amendment to amend or delete during floor consideration.


Case History: The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Bill, 2008

For years opponents of nuclear power have offered bills and amendments relating to the operating of the state's only nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee. In 2008 the plant's owner, Entergy, announced that it sought regulatory approval to reorganize five of its nuclear reactor fleet, including Vermont Yankee, into a new corporation.

Since its beginning, the past and present corporate owners of Vermont Yankee have been accumulating a decommissioning fund (financed by rate payers) to pay for eventually removing the spent fuel and the reactor vessel, and tearing down the entire structure at the end of the plant's operating lifetime. In early 2008 that fund had grown to $440 million.

Entergy was then seeking Federal regulatory approval to extend the plant's operating license from 2012 to 2032. If the extension is not granted, Entergy plans to put the plant into non-operating "SafeStor" condition (mothballs) for twenty years or more before actually dismantling the plant. By that time the decommissioning fund was expected go grow from $440 million to the $800+ million anticipated to be the cost of complete decommissioning and removal.

Opponents were concerned that Entergy's proposed corporate reorganization might allow the corporation to somehow divert the money in the fund to other uses, leaving insufficient money for the eventual decommissioning. So in the 2008 session they backed a Senate bill (S.373) that required Entergy, as a condition of approval of its reorganization proposal, to immediately fill the decommissioning fund to $800+ million, using either cash or corporate credit.

Let's follow the progress of this legislation using the Vermont Legislature's online bill tracking service.

First, go to Look for Legislative Information Database, and select "Search for a bill by sponsor or keyword."

Select the keyword "nuclear". This will produce seven bills relating to "nuclear."

Select "S.0373 FULL FUNDING OF DECOMMISSIONING COSTS OF A NUCLEAR PLANT." This bill was introduced ("first reading") by the Senate Finance Committee on March 18, 2008.

The Senate took up S.373 for "second reading" on March 20. This means that it appeared in the Senate Calendar for floor action.

The legislative web site then shows that one floor amendment was proposed to S.373, by Sen. Mullin. It was disagreed to without a roll call vote. (To discover the content of the Mullin Amendment, it's necessary to go to the Senate Journal for that date.)

The web site then shows that there was a roll call vote on whether to advance S.373 to third reading. That roll call was 22-7 in favor. Click on "details" to see how each Senator voted. The Senate then passed the bill on an unrecorded voice vote.

The web site then shows that the bill was received in the House ("first reading") on March 25, and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy on April 1. It was subsequently referred to the Committee on Commerce, which reported it favorably on April 18. S.373 appeared on the House Calendar for floor action on April 23.

The website shows that Rep. Errecart offered a floor amendment that was disagreed to on a roll call vote of 62-82. The roll call record can be found by clicking on details.

Suppose you want to learn what the Errecart amendment to S.373 sought to do. The House roll call book provides the title of the bill and the roll call on the Errecart amendment, but gives no further hint of what that amendment sought to do.

To find out, you have to go to the House Journal of April 23, 2008 and read the text of the amendment. In this instance, the Errecart amendment sought to convert the mandatory financial security requirements imposed on the nuclear plant owner by the bill into only a legislative recommendation. As noted, this was rejected 62-82.

Then Rep. Adams made a motion to order the bill to lie ("on the table"). That failed 53-90.

Then the House voted to order the bill read for the third time, on a vote of 81-58.

The following day the House voted to pass S.373 by a vote of 82-60.

All of these individual roll call votes can be accessed by clicking on "details".

The bill then went to the Governor, who vetoed it. The legislative leadership did not choose to put the bill up for a veto override vote (2/3 required), so the bill expired.


Additional Facts to Understand

Sometimes during floor action an amendment will be offered "to delete Sec. 6 of the bill". Then you have to find the bill as it has been amended at that moment, find sec. 6, and see what language would be deleted.

Finding out the meaning of a vote on an appropriations bill, especially on a floor amendment, is very challenging. In the Senate, for instance, a floor amendment may seek to change the amount in the 73rd proposal of amendment offered by the Committee on Appropriations from $450,000 to $350,000. To find out what is actually being proposed, you have to start with the bill as passed by the House, find the Appropriations Committee's 73rd proposal of amendment on the Senate Calendar, and look at the House-passed bill itself to see what section that proposal of amendment would amend. Even so, it is often not clear from the Calendar and Journal exactly what activity spending the floor amendment sought to reduce from $450,000 to $350,000.

It should also be noted that sometimes legislators will vote for a "bad" amendment to water down an even "worse" proposal in the underlying bill, and sometimes they will vote against a bill as a protest because the bill didn't go far enough or do as much as the legislator wanted. Legislators can properly be asked to explain why they voted as they did; it is not always self-evident.

For published compilations of roll call votes produced by various Vermont organizations, see the section on "How Can I Find Voters' Report Cards".


Summaries of acts passed by the Legislature

Each year the Legislative Council publishes staff-written summaries of all the Acts and Resolves enacted by the legislature. These are found by year at
The summaries necessarily omit some fine details and qualifications, but they are an essential first step toward understanding the legislative enactments. Remember that an act passed in a later year may modify the original act, so the original summary may no longer be accurate.


How Can I Find Report Cards on my Legislator's Voting Record?

Each election year various organizations publish report cards, showing each legislator's vote on selected issues of interest to the organization.
Political action organizations like VPIRG and the League of Conservation Voters, and business groups like the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, may select key issues of interest to them, and rank legislators' records good or bad, yielding a numerical score (70) or a letter grade (C-).
In report cards published by political action organizations, the description of the vote cast may be heavily biased toward the organization's position on an issue. Readers need to take into account the organizations' bias when reading such descriptions.
Educational organizations such as the Ethan Allen Institute may not bias the descriptions or offer grades or performance rankings of legislators.
Bear in mind that voting records alone may not be a comprehensive indication of a legislator's effectiveness.
Sources of report cards include:

top How to Find How Much Legislators are Paid

All Representatives and Senators are paid a weekly stipend of $625.36 (2009) when in session (typically Tuesday- Friday). In 2005 Act 66 provided for the first time that legislative salaries shall increase annually by a cost of living index, so that legislators no longer need to vote to increase their pay. (10 VSA 1052)
Legislators typically serve around 16 weeks in each year of the biennium, although sessions as long as 22 weeks have occurred in past years.
If a legislator is absent on personal business, he or she is expected to notify the Legislative Council so that his or her weekly stipend can be reduced accordingly.
Legislators who commute to the State House receive a round trip mileage payment of 55 cents per mile.
Legislators who take lodging in Montpelier during the session are reimbursed at the rate of $93 per day, plus one weekly round trip mileage payment from their home.
Legislators are paid a flat $54 per day for meals, regardless of what they actually spend.


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