Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back to Basics: The Legislative Product

A bill must have a title, an enacting clause, and a body of provisions to be enacted. To draft bills, drafters rely on drafting manuals.

A state legislature's drafting manual can take the form of a bound handbook, a loose leaf notebook, or a CD-Rom. Some drafting manuals are even available on line. Some are enacted as resolutions. Some are internal staff documents. Law Writer edits one drafting manual and collects others.

No matter the form, a legislative drafting manual is generally much more than a checklist on how to write a bill. The drafting manual serves as a detailed guide to the correct form for bills and resolutions. The manual provides information on style and gives "voice" to the laws of a particular jurisdiction. Though legislative drafting manuals are not generally concerned with the particular substance of bills, manuals usually provide information about constitutional issues and limitations. Confidentiality requirements are often discussed as well.

First published in 1955, the Bill Drafting Manual for the Kentucky General Assembly is one of my favorites. Section 101 (Introduction) of the 1996 Edition says: ". . . The quality of the legislative product depends not only upon the substance of laws, but upon their form and style. Inaccurate or careless drafting may produce bad laws, or even invalidate a measure entirely. It is essential to legislators, administrators, courts, and the public that bills and resolutions be written in a clear, correct, and unambiguous style."

Legislative Documents & Their Functions:

Bill: The exclusive means by which a legislature enacts, amend, or repeals a statute.

Resolution: The document used to address internal legislative matters. A resolution that must be passed by both chambers is a joint or concurrent resolution. A resolution that need be passed by only one chamber is a simple resolution.

Floor amendment: An amendment to a bill or resolution offered by a legislator during floor debate.

Committee substitute: A committee substitute for a bill or resolution is a "draft de novo" adopted by a committee for consideration by the chamber in place of the original bill or resolution.

Conference committee report: The conference committee is appointed when the chambers do not agree and matters in disagreement must be settled. A conference committee report is a complete draft of a bill that usually represents a compromise. (If the originating house agrees with changes to a bill made by the other chamber, there is no need for a conference report.)

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