Why is the title of a bill so important?

The title of a bill provides notice to the public as to the contents of the bill.  Article V, section 21 of the State Constitution requires that a bill contain only one subject and that the subject be “clearly expressed in its title…”.  The title must also state the purpose of the bill.  This means the title must accurately reflect the substance of the bill without being so broad as to violate the Constitution’s single subject requirement.

The bill title not only tells the public what’s in the bill, but it controls the amendments that may be added to the bill as it goes through the legislative process.  Because the title expresses the single subject and purpose of the bill, an amendment that would add a subject or language that is broader than the title would arguably add a second subject to the bill in violation of the single-subject requirement.  For this reason, the chairperson of the committee in which the amendment is offered may rule the amendment out of order.

If a bill is introduced with a broad title, a legislator may offer an amendment to narrow the title so that it is more specific as to the provisions in the bill.  A legislator may also try to narrow a bill title in order to control the amendments that can be offered to the bill. Remember, however, that another legislator can offer an amendment at any time to broaden the title back to its introduced form.  So, tightening a title after a bill is introduced, with the goal of limiting the possible amendments, is unlikely to be successful, because another member may amend the title back to the introduced version to allow for his or her substantive amendment.

A legislator may also try to amend a title to make it broader than the introduced version.  While there’s no actual rule that says a legislator cannot broaden an introduced title, by custom and practice these amendments are generally not allowed.  Logically, if the introduced bill title is a single subject, the effect of broadening it would be to allow for one or more additional subjects — a clear violation of the constitutional single-subject requirement.