When a bill is first introduced in the House, it is called the first reading, even though the bill is note actually read aloud. At that time, the clerk of the House reads out just the title of the bill and the Speaker assigns it to a committee. Not all bills assigned to committees are acted upon during a session. If and when it does decide to take the bill up, the committee will hear from the sponsor of the bill and will take testimony from witnesses. The bill may still die in committee. Alternatively, the bill may be voted out of the committee, with or without amendments to the bill’s language as introduced. It will then go before the full House for the second reading, again not actually a reading. At the second reading, a legislator from the committee that has considered the bill will report it out, which entails explaining the bill on the floor of the House – its purpose, its provisions, why it should be passed, etc.
On Wednesday of this past week, I had my first opportunity to report out a bill, H.86, which is an amendment to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”). Here is a photo of me reporting out the bill.
As I explained to the rest of the representatives, H.86 amends UIFSA, originally enacted in Vermont in 1996. UIFSA establishes uniform rules for interstate enforcement of both child support and spousal support orders. The law has two overall goals: first, there should be one support order between parties that is controlling at any given point in time, and second, the terms of the support order should be readily enforceable in any state.
It is important to have uniform laws in this subject area because families move. UIFSA helps to ensure that children are being supported when a noncustodial parent owing support resides in a different state than the child. There are roughly 15 million child support cases nation wide and about half of these involve parents in different states or countries.
Increasingly, it is important to have more uniformity not just among states, but also among countries. To that end, in November 2007, the United States signed a treaty establishing uniform procedures for processing international child support cases. The Uniform Law Commission, a non-partisan organization that drafts uniform laws in areas of state law where uniformity is important, incorporated the requirements of the treaty into proposed amendments to UIFSA. In order for the treaty to go into effect in the United States, all 50 states must enact these amendments. They must do so or risk losing federal funds that support state child support programs. Failure to enact these amendments during the 2015 legislative session could result in Vermont’s annual loss of $56 million in federal funds. Enacting the UIFSA would not only ensure continued receipt of federal help for Vermont’s child support enforcement efforts, but would also improve the enforcement of Vermont child support orders abroad and ensure that children residing in Vermont will receive the financial support due from parents, wherever the parents reside.
After I explained this in my reporting out of the bill, other members had the opportunity to “interrogate” me by asking questions about the bill, or could make statements in support of or in opposition to the bill. In the case of H.86, no one interrogated me or made statements. It was a noncontroversial bill, plus a significant amount of federal funds rides on enacting the UIFSA amendments. After the opportunity to interrogate, the House voted unanimously to approve the bill for a third reading. After the vote, as I learned is traditional, a number of legislators had pages deliver notes to me congratulating me on my first opportunity to report out a bill – another example of the collegiality of the House.
Between the second and third reading, legislators have the opportunity to seek amendments to the bill. There were no amendments to H.86, and on Thursday, the third reading was held and, again, the bill was passed unanimously and has been moved to the Senate for its consideration.
Although preparing for reporting out H.86 took up quite a bit of my time last week, I was also involved with other matters. The Judiciary Committee took testimony on a number of bills, but spent most of its time considering a State False Claims Act, which provides incentives for individuals to report fraud or false claims of companies in their dealings with state government. It also took testimony on bills related to “revenge porn,” and whether cases involving minors should be filed in the family or criminal division of state court (see last week’s post for more information regarding these latter two bills).
In addition, I tried to keep up on other areas of interest. I attended the climate caucus, which is an informal gathering of legislators from all parties and from both the Senate and House who are interested in this particular topic. I also attended a gathering of legislators interested in rural economic development. Finally, I spoke with the chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, which is considering the bill that I introduced related to teacher collective bargaining. We discussed the status of the bill and a related bill and what additional testimony might be helpful. See my most recent article for The Other Paper, which I posted yesterday, for more information on this bill.
On a lighter note, the Friends of the Vermont State House, a citizen’s advisory committee, held a fundraiser during the week. They sold Valentine’s Day cards with Statehouse themes and provided the services of a calligrapher to write notes in the cards. I believe Anne, Griffin, and Tess each enjoyed receiving the beautifully inscribed cards today along with chocolate hearts that I purchased at a top-notch chocolatier in Montpelier. Happy Valentine’s Day.