Bill History is Out There – All You Need To Do Is Ask

by Julie Pelegrin

A constituent has just brought you a great idea for a bill. It’s such a great idea that you can’t believe someone hasn’t already introduced a bill on it. You put in your bill request, you introduce your bill, and then, just before you go into the committee room for your hearing, the committee chair warns you that the last three years this bill was introduced, it went down in flames. Obviously, this would have been good information to have much earlier in the process.

Now, this information is available to you – all you have to do is ask your bill drafter.

The Office of Legislative Legal Services has created a database of the long title and short title of every bill introduced since the 1999 legislative session. At a legislator’s request, a bill drafter will search this database to determine whether a bill has been introduced in the last 10 years that addresses the issue of your bill request. If the drafter doesn’t find any bills that appear to be on point with your request, you may ask the drafter to search further back.

If the drafter does identify one or more bills that address your issue, he or she will provide you a history of each identified bill:  When it was introduced, the prime bill sponsors in both houses, what committees it was assigned to, whether it passed, and, if it didn’t, the stage at which it was defeated. The drafter will also provide to you a copy of the introduced version of the bill and the version it was in when it either passed or was defeated.

You may request additional information concerning these identified bills, such as a copy of the summary of the committee hearings at which the bill was considered, copies of any amendments that the committees considered, copies of the committee reports, and copies of the journal pages for the days on which the bill was debated on second and third reading. You can even request a CD of the recorded committee hearing or floor debate if that would be helpful, but it may take the drafter some time to obtain the recording.

We have to mention a couple of caveats with regard to these bill history searches. The drafter will obviously do his or her best to identify the bills that address the issue you’re interested in, but we cannot guarantee that the drafter will find every bill. The database is limited in that it contains only long and short titles, and the searches are limited in that they may or may not include the correct terms. So, a drafter may miss some bills when conducting the search.

Also, there is some degree of subjectivity involved in interpreting the search results. A drafter may identify a previous bill that addresses an issue that is similar to one you’re considering, but the drafter may decide that it is not similar enough to be helpful or that the issue was one of several included in the bill, so the bill is not actually comparable to your bill. Also, the drafter may decide that an earlier bill addressed your issue in a manner that is so different from your approach that the earlier bill is not comparable. Your best practice is to discuss the search results with your drafter, regardless of whether the drafter identifies comparable bills.

Obviously, if your bill drafter personally knows of a bill from an earlier session that is similar to the one you’re requesting, he or she will likely discuss that bill with you prior to drafting your bill.