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To Tallahassee and Back: How Ideas Become Bills

This week's post explains how an idea can become a bill. I include some examples of past bills that were inspired by local residents.

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 Or, the idea may come from a lawmaker who wants to see something created, repealed or changed.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. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Diane Carlstrom March 10, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Well, I would really like to know how to get a bill passed when there is not a great deal of $ backing it, or even how to get it to committee when the gang in Tally seems very intent on playing partisan games? Seems to me many of the bills that buzz through leave little droppings (sometimes not so little) that personally benefit those that support them. It's very hard to tune into or support a system that seems to work best when the 'right people' get a little something for their trouble.
Greg Giordano March 12, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Diane, You ask an excellent question. Many people are fed up with a system that apparently enriches those who run it. However, there truly are very few people who personally benefit from legislation that is passed. Most go to Tallahassee with the intention of doing right and I believe most actually accomplish that. Law requires that if a legislator has a conflict of interest with a piece of legislation on which he or she must vote then they must file a disclosure form. In any event, the media plays an important role in this process. Good reporters ferret out anyone who may potentially enrich themselves. We also have an ethics process through which citizens and others can file complaints against elected officials. Overall, I would encourage you to start by sharing your ideas with your local lawmakers. If he or she is not willing to listen to your proposal keep working until you find someone who is interested. The legislative delegation in each county meets at least once per year. Presenting your idea at the delegation meeting gives you the opportunity to go before all the members of your county at one time. You can also attend a legislative committee meeting and address the members of the committee as a whole. If you have further questions please don't hesitate to write back. Thank you for your comments and questions.
Diane Carlstrom March 12, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Thanks Greg, I have been up to Tally and part of a bill that has been introduced by Jeff Clemens and so far, the last 2 years, we can't even get it heard in committee even though people have called and written to their reps in support of our bill. I am aware that there is the way things are supposed to be vs the way things really are. Money is always what is behind what gets passed unless it's a very emotional issue. We will not quit, just continue fighting to bring the people what they want.
Greg Giordano March 13, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Diane, It is unfortunate that the perception is that it takes money to pass bills. As I mentioned in my blog entry, some of the constituent-generated bills that Senator Fasano has sponsored over the years become law and some don't. The one thing that is a common denominator is the fact that none of these bills originated from a special interest. Much like the lawmaker you referenced, Senator Fasano has also filed the same bill over multiple years. During his 18 tenure as a legislator, one of his most successful pieces of legislation was a bill that created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. It took 8 years from the first time he sponsored the bill to the time it was signed into law by the governor. The key is to not give up. Don't lose heart. The process can be frustrating but it can also be extremely rewarding. To know that the drug database is potentially saving hundreds of lives or more per year makes all the effort it took to pass it worth it. Thanks again for reading and commenting. Take care, Greg

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