Drafting Your Bill: The Tough Parts
Finding A Statute
Once you have identified a bill topic, you need to find out what the current law says about the issue. Florida Law is codified in the Florida Statutes, which can be found online at www.leg.state.fl.us. In order to find out whether you will repeal a current law, change a current law, or add a new law, you need to find out where your law belongs in the statutes.
The Florida Statutes,are divided into Titles, which identify general areas of the law—for example, Title XXIX is “Public Health.” Each title is further divided into Chapters; within Public Health, Chapter 382 is “Vital Statistics.” Finally, the laws themselves are indicated by Sections, shown as additions after the decimal point to the Chapter number—Section 382.017 is the Florida law regarding Certificates of Foreign Birth.
To find your law’s place in the Florida Statutes, find the Title that best fits your law, then the Chapter in that Title that matches. You may need to look in multiple Titles or Chapters if you don’t find your law right away. Once you find the right Chapter, read the Sections that are closest to your law—remember that there may not be a section where yours would fit, if you are adding a new law. If repealing or amending, you will need to use the exact Section number you find. If you are adding a brand new law, pick an unused section number as close as possible to where you found the nearest match.
You’ve just found your reference point in the Florida Statutes. Good work.
Writing Legislative Intent
The legislative intent section is designed to tell fellow legislators why you have written your bill. It offers an opportunity to set forth the problems your bill addresses, and the solutions it offers. Remember that the legislative intent is just that—intent—and is not language that will become part of the Florida Statutes.
You should begin with three or four short “Problem” phrases, each beginning with the word “Whereas.” These allow you to show what problem your bill addresses, and why it is a big deal. If your bill provides funding for rehabilitating portions of the Everglades, one of your “Whereas” clauses might read “Whereas the Florida Everglades has been diminished in size by 50% since 1882; and…” Remember that each “Whereas” phrase should end with a semicolon and “and,” instead of a period. This will make your legislative intent into a complete sentence. End the last “Whereas” phrase with “now” instead of “and.”
The last phrase in your legislative intent should be a solution phrase; begin with the word “Therefore” to indicate that you are going to be solving the problems you just indicated. This should be a short summary of your solution to the problem.
Whereas the Florida Everglades has been diminished in six by 50% since 1882, and
Whereas the Florida Everglades is a diverse ecosystem that sustains myriad animal and plant life as well as water for drinking and agriculture throughout southern Florida, and
Whereas wetland estuaries in Florida Bay fed by the Florida Everglades support wildlife that attracts tourists to Florida, supporting the Florida economy, now
Therefore the State of Florida should set aside 2% of its annual budget for Everglades Restoration.
Bill guidelines should state clearly and concisely exactly what your bill will accomplish.
Creating a New Law
Guidelines for your new law should clearly state who is to do what, and when, where, and how they should do it. If answering one of those questions requires establishing a new agency or commission, specify that in your law. Remember that if you are creating a new agency, you may give the agency discretion as to how they accomplish tasks. The best guidelines provide a clear description of what is to be done, while giving the person or group who is doing it the authority to use their best judgment. Remember that you may refer to current Florida law for penalties and enforcement, or include them in separate sections of the bill.
Section IV: Guidelines
Section 316.254, Florida Statutes, is created to read:
(1) Every motor vehicle of net shipping weight of not more than 7,500 pounds shall be equipped with suspension equipment such that when measured from the ground to the bottom of the chassis, at no point does the distance measured exceed 38 inches.
(2) “Antique Automobiles” as defined in s. 320.08, and “horseless carriages” as defined in s. 320.086, shall be excluded from the requirements of this section.
(3) A violation of this section shall be defined as a moving violation. A person charged with violation of this section is subject to the penalties provided in s. 318.18.
Amending or Repealing a Law
If your bill amends or repeals a current Statute, you must copy the text of the statute into your guidelines. Because Sections are often lengthy, you may choose to include only the subsections of the law that your bill affects. Any language that is being removed from the law should be struck through, and any additions should be underlined.
Example: Amending a Law
Section IV: Guidelines
Section 773.06, Florida Statutes, Is amended to read:
(3) A trainer, instructor, supervisor, or other person may not knowingly sell, rent or lease an equine to be ridden by a child person younger than 16 21 years of age unless the child person possesses a helmet meeting the requirements of this section or the trainer, instructor, supervisor, or other person selling, renting or leasing the equine supplies the child person with a helmet meeting the standards of this section.
Example: Repealing a Law
Section IV: Guidelines
Section 322.35, Florida Statutes, is repealed in its entirety.
No person shall cause or knowingly permit his or her child or ward under the age of 18 years to drive a motor vehicle upon any highway when such minor is not authorized by the provisions of this chapter.
Putting it All Together
Remember to ensure that your bill is a complete package. Check your title, to ensure that each section referenced in it is present in the body, and that each section in the body is referred to in the title. Make sure you have included enough information in the body of the bill that a fellow legislator can read the bill and understand what problem it solves and how it accomplishes that solution. Be sure it is free of grammatical or spelling errors. Most of all, ensure that your bill speaks for itself – remember that, should the bill pass in your chamber, someone else will be presenting it in the opposing chamber, and the legislators voting on it there will need to be able to understand the bill without your assistance.
Have fun! Proofread! And make sure you never stop researching – you never know what new facts you will find.
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