On the importance of being earnest….about bill drafting
In this addition of the insider, I’ve decided to take on an exciting topic-bill drafting! Don’t all hit delete at once folks, I promise its important.
We get no shortage of good ideas for bills from constituents and sometimes I even think of a good idea or two myself-that’s not the hard part. Its drafting a bill to make it a reality that gets tricky. A mistake in the section of law you amend, the language you use, the reference that you make or a difference between the bill text and the memo can all spell trouble.
Let’s start at the beginning. I have a great idea for a bill-what do I do? I usually go over it with staff and review the pros and cons. Assuming I decide to go forward staff takes the idea to work on the text. My staff will either put together a full draft of the legislation or an outline. At that point, it is sent to the non-partisan Legislative Bill Drafting Commission. What is that you ask? Well, it’s a bi-partisan group of lawyers who work at the capitol. Their only job is to help Legislators draft bills properly. They are supposed to take your text or outline and check it for accuracy. They make sure you amend all the relevant sections of law include all the proper definitions and make certain the bill is organized appropriately. Then they send you a formal “LBD” which stands for Legislative Bill Draft. You review it and make changes until you are happy. Next, a memorandum is written to accompany the bill that explains it and provides a justification. This is all submitted to Senate revisions where it is formally introduced and put on the electronic system.
Sounds simple and easy right? Not so much. Even with all of that work and reviews, bills still end up with mistakes that aren’t caught. These mistakes matter. One example happened a couple of weeks ago. A member from Long Island had a bill on the floor meant to require the Long Island Power Authority to provide notice of hearings on utility rate increases to residents on their bill. Sounds like a good idea. What could go wrong? Well, the problem is the bill amended the Public Service Law. That section of law DOES NOT impact the Long Island Power Authority! In order to accomplish that you had to amend Public Authorities Law. The member was given a heads up as it were and pulled the bill to amend it before he was embarrassed on the floor.
Remember the memorandum attached to the bill that, I mentioned? That can be problematic too. Last week in the Civil Service and Pensions Committee a member had a bill to require interpreters for various languages be available at every state agency interacting with the public. I had concerns about that idea, but even more so when I read the attached memorandum that also said it was applicable to counties as well. This conflict caused a lot of confusion and discussion on the bill in Committee.
One thing I have figured out since I’ve been in the Senate is that when it comes to drafting laws, precision and accuracy matter. While not perfect, the folks at the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission as well as my Legislative staff do an excellent job on these issues. They make all the ideas you and I come up with operational and workable. They are the unsung heroes of state government. Next Time-How a bill becomes a law..or not!