Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ideas Become Law

The legislator's idea is part one. The spark for the idea may derive from the member's personal experience, a request from the executive branch or a local government agency, the advocacy of a public interest group, the information provided by a lobbyist, or an e-mail or telephone call from a constituent. The spark might come from a matter in the news or from a member's conversation with a legislator from another jurisdiction.

Next, the member will take the idea to the legislative staff for assistance in turning the idea into a law. The legislator's communication of the "legislative idea" to the bill drafter is the beginning of the legislative drafting process. 

All communications between drafter and sponsor are confidential and privileged. The law writer is charged to understand fully the member's aim and the subject matter involved. This is Law Writer's favorite part of the process. 

The legislator is entrusted under the constitution with making law. That trust is placed by thousands of voters. It is a privilege for a law writer to take on the responsibility of assisting the sponsor to craft the best law to effectuate the member's solemn intent. No brag. Just fact. Law writing is a very unique vocation.

A bill is more than the sum of its parts.  For the record, the basic elements of a bill include:

Bill Number - Each bill will have a number that also includes an identifier of the chamber from which it comes. Of course, if one is in Nebraska, there is only one chamber in its unicameral legislature. The rest of the states are bicameral.

Sponsor(s) - Their names appear on the bill in North Carolina and most other jurisdictions.

Long Title - Depending on the jurisdiction, the long title gives pertinent detail in brief about what the bill does.

Short Title - More like a "nickname" or very brief way to reference the legislation.


Enacting Clause - Very special lead in language at the beginning of a bill that puts the people on notice that "The General Assembly enacts . . ." or some similar phrase. Generally required by the state constitution to make an bill into law in order to declare the source from which the law claims to derive its authority. To put it another way, a bill cannot be enacted unless it contains an enacting clause.

Sections - A bill may add new law, amend existing law, or repeal existing law. Each of these functions will appear in one or more sections of a bill. Each section of a bill bears a numbered or lettered designation and each section must be uniquely designated. Each legislature has its own rules as to how sections are designated. A law writer must follow those rules.

Applicability - A section that defines who or what the law applies to. Sometimes, an applicability clauses resolves constitutional issues or merely prevents undue confusion.


Effective Date - Every bill must have an effective date section. That section itself should take effect on the earliest effective date in the act. Common sense. But when bills get lengthy and are amended numerous times with new and revised sections, it is possible to err in this regard. A law writer must pay attention to such things.

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