All pieces of legislation (bills) start out as an idea. That idea may come from an individual who says “there ought to be a law!” and seeks out a legislator to help make one. That idea may come from a group which has presented its proposal either to a single legislator, a legislative committee or a meeting of a legislative delegation (each county has a delegation which consists of the senators and representatives who have constituencies within the county). Or, the idea may come from a lawmaker who wants to see something created, repealed or changed. In any event, that idea is the starting point for what will eventually become a bill.
Some of the most satisfying pieces of legislation that we have worked on over the years are those proposed by constituents. Although not all have ended successfully as an entry in the statute books, bills prompted or inspired by local residents are particularly enjoyable to work on. Helping someone right a wrong, or help prevent someone else from being wronged, is especially gratifying.
I am reminded of a bill that changed the statute of limitations for the prosecuting of sexual assault. A woman shared her heartfelt story about being victimized by a man who was never brought to justice because the statute of limitations ran out by the time he was found. A bill by then-Representative Fasano successfully changed the statutes so that anyone victimized in the same way would never have to worry about the criminal not facing the consequences of his actions.
Other ideas that have been proposed by local residents over the years include requiring auto repair shops to carry a certain level of liability insurance, the creation of statewide standards for confidential informants and a bill requiring that indoor ice skating rinks be inspected for air quality. Although not all of these ideas have become law, they were all inspired by tragic events that drove a victim or a survivor to do something to prevent what happened to them or their loved one from happening again.
The unsung heroes in the legislative process are the bill drafting attorneys who work far from the spotlight. They take the ideas presented to lawmakers and put them into the legal form that allows those ideas to be formally considered by the legislature. Bill drafting attorneys have specific expertise in structuring bills so that they meet the strict requirements that a piece of legislation must meet. Bill drafting attorneys do everything from ensuring that “people” references are gender non-specific to ensuring that all statutes that may be impacted are properly noted in the bill (this is called cross referencing). Bil-drafting attorneys also write amendments to bills, a responsibility that takes up a lot of time and effort. As a staffer I am grateful for their good work. Even though they may not be recognized as they should be, their contribution to the legislative process is invaluable and is ultimately enshrined in the statute books.
The genesis of all bills is an idea. Whether from the mind of one or the minds of many, that idea eventually makes its way into a document written in proper legal form called a bill. Sometimes that bill becomes a law. Many times they don’t. No matter the outcome, the process is one that is open for everyone who has even the germ of an idea for a new law to participate. If you have a proposal start by contacting your local legislator and one day that idea may end up before the governor for his signature.
I welcome your questions about the legislative process. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, or e-mail me directly, and I will answer them in an upcoming post. If there is a specific topic you would like me to write about please let me know as well.