HOLC Guide to Legislative Drafting
Welcome to the House Office of the Legislative Counsel Guide to Legislative Drafting. The purpose of this online guide is to provide an overview of the drafting style and conventions used by the House Office of the Legislative Counsel in order to facilitate communication and collaboration between the attorneys of the Office and their clients.
Please feel free to browse the table of contents below to navigate to the relevant topics within the guide. Be sure to check back frequently, as we have many plans to continually update our guide to take increasing advantage of its online presence.
Finally, don’t forget to print out a “Quick Guide” to keep at your desk by clicking the button on the left.
Table of Contents
- Forms of legislation
- How Federal statutes are organized
- Organization within a bill
- General template for structuring content
- Amending statutes
- Use of particular legislative provisions
- Three important conventions
- Sources and additional information
I. Forms of legislation
There are four different forms of legislation. Two of them (bills and joint resolutions) are used for making law, while the other two (simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions) are used for matters of congressional administration and to express nonbinding policy views. Joint resolutions are also used to propose constitutional amendments for ratification by the States.
For a bill or joint resolution to become law, section 7 of article I of the Constitution requires that it pass both houses of Congress and be presented to the President. It will become law if the President signs it, if the President vetoes it and Congress overrides the veto by a two-thirds vote, or if ten days pass without any action by the President (while Congress is in session). Simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions are not presented to the President because they do not become law. Joint resolutions proposing constitutional amendments are governed instead under article V of the Constitution, which does not require presentment to the President.
There is no legal difference between a law that originated as a bill and a law that originated as a joint resolution. Congress chooses between bills and joint resolutions using conventions that have developed over time for the subject matter involved. Bills are more common than joint resolutions, but a prominent example of a joint resolution is a resolution to make continuing appropriations beyond the end of a fiscal year when the regular appropriations bills for the next year have not been completed (a “continuing resolution” or “CR”).
One other difference between bills and joint resolutions is stylistic. When a bill passes one house of Congress, its designation changes from “A Bill” to “An Act”, even though it has not yet become law. A “Joint Resolution” keeps the same designation even after passage by both houses and enactment.
Comparison of Forms of Legislation
|Form of legislation||Passage required by||Presentment to President||Result||Example|
|Bill||Both houses||Yes||Law||H.R. 2568 (111th Congress)|
|Joint resolution||Both houses||Yes (except proposal of constitutional amendment)||Law (except proposal of constitutional amendment)||H.J. Res. 52 (a CR from the 110th Congress)|
|Concurrent resolution||Both houses||No||Not law (binding only as to certain matters of congressional administration)||S. Con. Res. 70 (the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2009; 110th Congress)|
|Simple resolution||One house||No||Not law (binding only as to certain matters of administration of the house that passed it)||H. Res. 88 (a “special rule” governing House debate on a bill; 111th Congress)|
II. How Federal statutes are organized
A. Public Laws, the Statutes at Large, and the United States Code
When a bill or joint resolution is enacted into law, it is given a public law1 number in the form 000–0. The first number is the number of the Congress that passed the law, and the second number indicates the sequential order of enactment of the law within that Congress. For example, Public Law 111–161 was the 161st law enacted during the 111th Congress. The public laws passed by recent Congresses may be accessed at Congress.gov.
Each new statute is printed as a separate document called a slip law. At the end of each session of Congress, the slip laws from that session are compiled, in sequential order, into the Statutes at Large. The top of each page of a slip law has a “Stat.” page number, which is the number that page will have in the Statutes at Large. Neither the slip laws nor the Statutes at Large are updated to reflect amendment by later statute.
The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives organizes most provisions of the public laws by subject matter in the United States Code so that particular provisions can be easily located. If a provision is of general applicability and is permanent, it will probably be assigned to a section in the Code; a provision that is temporary, narrow in scope, or obsolete or executed may be assigned to a note or appendix, or left out of the Code entirely. To search or browse the Code, you may visit the Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s Search & Browse page.
It is helpful to keep in mind several other points when using the U.S. Code. First, the Code has a different structure than the slip laws and is not a verbatim replication of them. Section numbers and cross-references will usually differ. There could even be some differences in language, although no substantive changes are intended. Second, the process of classifying a slip law to the Code often involves splitting it up and placing different provisions of it in different parts of the Code. Finally, unlike the slip laws and Statutes at Large, the Code is updated to reflect amendment by later statute.
See the examples below to compare a statutory provision (section 102(a)(1) of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993) as it appears in the slip law with its U.S. Code counterpart:Comparison of slip law and U.S. Code versions of a statutory provision
B. Positive versus non-positive law titles of the U.S. Code
The easiest way to understand this distinction is to look at the purpose and history of the U.S. Code. The only organizing principle behind the slip laws, and thus the Statutes at Large, is chronology. This makes it very difficult to find the law on a particular topic using those sources. Beginning in 1926, the U.S. Code was published to organize the laws by subject matter and make them more accessible. The first editions of the Code were simply restatements of the laws being organized; they did not actually take the place of those laws. If there was a conflict between a Code provision and the underlying statutory provision, the statute controlled.
In 1947, Congress began the process of enacting titles of the Code into law and repealing the underlying statutes, a process that continues today. The provisions of a title so enacted become “positive” law, and the underlying statutory provisions can no longer be used to rebut them. One can quickly see the status of a title by looking at the first page after the title page of any volume of the Code or at the Search & Browse page on the Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s website. Those titles marked with an asterisk have been enacted into positive law.
Here is the practical implication of this distinction for drafting purposes:
- If the provision of the Code you are citing or amending has been enacted into positive law, cite or amend the Code provision (e.g., “section 32901 of title 49, United States Code,”).
- If it has not, cite or amend the underlying statute, typically by its short title (e.g., “section 325 of the Communications Act of 1934”).
C. Working with provisions that are not part of positive law titles of the U.S. Code
As discussed above, when legislation cites a statutory provision that is not part of a positive law title of the U.S. Code, the citation must be to the underlying statute, not to the Code. This presents a logistical problem, because the original slip law and the Statutes at Large are not updated to reflect any amendments since enactment. For this reason, access to a compilation of the statute that includes the amendments is an enormous drafting aid. Among the entities that maintain compilations are legal publishing companies, congressional committees, and the House Office of the Legislative Counsel. Compilations of selected statutes are available on the left menu bar under Selected Statutes. See the example below to view section 102(a)(1) of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as it appears in the Office’s compilation of the statute:A statute as it appears in the Office’s compilations
When citing a statute that is not part of a positive law title of the Code, it is helpful to give the Code cite in parentheses as an aid to readers who do not have access to a compilation. For example: “section 102 of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (29 U.S.C. 2612)”. If a provision does not appear as part of a Code section but does appear in a note or appendix, the Code cite will look like this: “section 235 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 (33 U.S.C. 2201 note)”; “section 3 of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.)”. If a provision does not appear in the Code at all, the parenthetical aid may include the public law number or Statutes at Large citation, or both. For example: “section 701 of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 (Public Law 111–80)”; “section 101 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 (110 Stat. 3662)”.
With rare exceptions, it is unnecessary to specify that you are citing to a statute “as amended”. Upon enactment, amendments are considered executed, even though nothing physically happens to the slip law or Statutes at Large, and any future reference is considered to be to the statute as amended.
III. Organization within a bill
The section is the basic unit of organization of a bill, and thus of an enacted statute. Section 104 of title 1, United States Code, provides that a section “shall contain, as nearly as may be, a single proposition of enactment”. The terminology for referring to units within a section has become highly standardized and should be carefully followed to avoid confusion. The breakdown of a section is as follows:
SECTION 1. (“SECTION” for 1st section and “SEC.” for subsequent sections, followed by Arabic numeral)
(a) (Subsection) (lower-case letter)
(1) (Paragraph) (Arabic numeral)
(A) (Subparagraph) (upper-case letter)
(i) (Clause) (lower-case Roman numeral)
(I) (Subclause) (upper-case Roman numeral)
In larger bills, sections may be organized into higher-level units. The terminology for such units varies from bill to bill, but the following terms are often used (from the highest level to the level immediately above a section): title I, subtitle A, chapter 1, subchapter A, part I, subpart 1.
IV. General template for structuring content
Our Office generally tries to organize the content of a bill, and provisions within a bill, according to the template below. We do not always follow this template, but it is often our starting point when we think about how to put together a draft.
- General rule: State the main message.
- Exceptions: Describe the persons or things to which the main message does not apply.
- Special rules: Describe the persons or things to which the main message applies in a different way or for which there is a different message.
- Transitional rules.
- Other provisions.
- Effective date (if appropriate).
- “Authorization of appropriations” provisions (if appropriate).
V. Amending statutes
A. Deciding whether a bill should be freestanding or amendatory
Many considerations go into deciding whether a bill should be a “freestanding” statement of law that is not incorporated as part of another statute or should amend an existing statute. They include the following:
- Is there an existing statute pertaining to the agencies, persons, or subject matter involved?
- If there is such a statute, is the new policy temporary or permanent? It may be better to avoid cluttering up the existing statute with temporary provisions, despite the related content.
- Would it be helpful for the definitions, enforcement provisions, rules of construction, or other general provisions of any such statute to apply in the case of the new policy?
B. Distinguishing material “outside the quotes” from material “inside the quotes”
Material that is being added to an existing statute is shown in quotation marks. As a shorthand, drafters often speak of freestanding material (whether an entire bill or a freestanding portion of a bill that also amends existing law) as being “outside the quotes” and the material being added as being “inside the quotes”. Even if all of the substantive provisions of a bill are inside the quotes, it will still have technical provisions that are freestanding, most notably amendatory instructions that indicate where in the existing statute the new material is to be placed.
When an amendatory provision becomes law, any new material being added will become part of the existing statute. Accordingly, it must be written as if it is in that statute. For example, references inside the quotes to “this Act” are to the statute being amended, not the new bill. Similarly, references inside the quotes to “section 5” are to section 5 of the statute being amended. Also, remember that all of the definitions, enforcement provisions, rules of construction, and other general provisions that apply to the portion of the statute where the new material is being placed will apply to that new material.
See the example below for a section of a bill that adds a new subsection to an existing statute:A bill adding a new subsection to an existing statute
VI. Use of particular legislative provisions
A. Purposes and findings provisions
Our Office discourages the use of a statement of purpose that merely summarizes the specific matters covered by a bill. At a minimum, such a statement is redundant if the operative text of the bill already states exactly what is required, permitted, or prohibited. More importantly, any differences between such a statement and the operative text may be construed in ways that are difficult to anticipate. There may be cases, however, where a statement of the objective of a particularly complex provision may be useful in clarifying Congress’s intent behind the provision.
Findings provisions are also generally unnecessary. In some instances, though, they may be helpful in establishing Congress’s power to regulate a certain activity (e.g., showing how an activity affects interstate commerce).
B. “Authorization of appropriations” provisions
In order to maintain the delineation between the jurisdiction of the authorizing committees and the Appropriations Committee, House Rule XXI creates a point of order against unauthorized appropriations in general appropriations bills. An appropriation in such a bill is out of order unless the expenditure is authorized by existing law. Note, however, that if the point of order is not raised or is waived and the bill is enacted, the appropriation will be valid.
Language requiring or permitting government action carries an implicit authorization for an unlimited amount of money to be appropriated for that purpose. The reason for including an “authorization of appropriations” provision is to limit the authorization to the amount or fiscal years stated. Accordingly, a provision that authorizes the appropriation of “such sums as may be necessary”, without specifying the years for which appropriations are authorized, is superfluous and should not be used.
C. Effective date provisions
Unless otherwise provided, a bill takes effect on the date of its enactment. An effective date provision should only be included if another effective date is intended. In a bill making amendments, any effective date provision with respect to when the amendments take effect should be stated, outside the quotes, as applying to “the amendments made by this [provision]”, not the provision itself.
VII. Three important conventions
A. The terms “means” and “includes”
The basic distinction between these two terms is that “means” is exclusive while “includes” is not. If a definition says that “the term ‘X’ means A, B, and C”, then X means only A, B, and C and cannot also mean D or E. If a definition says that “the term ‘X’ includes A, B, and C”, then X must include A, B, and C, but it may also include D or E, or both. Thus, the phrase “includes, but is not limited to” is redundant. In fact, using it in some places out of an abundance of caution could cause a limitation to be read into places where it is not used.
B. The terms “shall” and “may”
The term “shall” means that an action is required; the term “may” means that it is permitted but not required. While this might seem obvious, a common misconception concerns the phrase “may not”, which is mandatory and is the preferred language for denying a right, power, or privilege (e.g., “The Secretary may not accept an application after April 1, 2011.”). “Shall not” perhaps sounds stronger and is usually construed to have the same meaning, but it is subject to some (rather arcane) interpretations that are best avoided.
C. Use of the singular preferred
In general, provisions should be drafted in the singular to avoid the ambiguity that plural constructions can create. Take, for example, this provision: “Drivers may not run red lights.”. It is ambiguous as to whether there is any violation unless multiple drivers run multiple red lights. This problem can be avoided by rewriting the provision as follows: “A driver may not run a red light.”.
Section 1 of title 1, United States Code, provides that in determining the meaning of any statute, unless the context indicates otherwise, singular terms include the plural and plural terms include the singular. In the simple example above, this rule of construction would eliminate the ambiguity by instructing that the reader substitute “driver” for “drivers” and “red light” for “red lights”. But it is preferable for a provision to be clear on its face, and the rule of construction also works in the other direction to foreclose any argument (however tenuous) that the redrafted provision applies to only one driver.
VIII. Sources and additional information
The following sources were used in the preparation of this guide and provide valuable additional information for anyone interested in legislative drafting or the organization of Federal law:
- House Legislative Counsel’s Manual on Drafting Style (originally prepared by Ward M. Hussey and revised by Ira B. Forstater).
- Lawrence E. Filson and Sandra L. Strokoff, The Legislative Drafter’s Desk Reference, 2nd. ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2008).
- Preface and Editor’s Note to the 2006 edition of the United States Code.
- Tobias A. Dorsey, Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide (Alexandria, VA: TheCapitol.Net, 2006).
- Introduction to Legislative Drafting (prepared by our Office for the use of our clients).
How a Bill Becomes a Law
|Stage 1: The Bill is Drafted|
Legislation can be written by anyone, but only a Member of Congress can introduce a bill (or “measure”) for consideration. The actual text of proposed bills frequently is drafted by legislative aides working either for members of Congress or for congressional committees. Occasionally you will encounter the same piece of legislation being introduced as a companion bill in both Chambers.
The President can propose a bill, and even send Congress a Presidential message urging its enactment into law, but he cannot introduce it. The President usually sends draft legislation to Congress with a letter or other explanatory material discussing his reasons for submitting the legislation. Sometimes the House will order a Presidential bill and its explanatory material to be printed as an official House Document.
Tip: If you are trying to find an Administration bill and do not know its number, try looking in the Congressional Record for a bill introduced ” by request“, or one that was introduced by the chairman or ranking member of the committee with jurisdiction over the issue involved (for example, the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee have responsibility for legislation on taxation).
10 Steps to Become a Law
There are potentially 10 steps a bill can go through before becoming a law. Here is a description of each step using the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2003 (S. 1053) as an example.
Step 1: A Bill Is Born
Anyone may draft a bill; however, only members of Congress can introduce legislation, and, by doing so, become the sponsor(s). The president, a member of the cabinet or the head of a federal agency can also propose legislation, although a member of Congress must introduce it.
Step 2: Committee Action
As soon as a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee. At this point the bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are first determined. If the committee does not act on a bill, the bill is effectively “dead.”
Step 3: Subcommittee Review
Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. Hearings provide the opportunity to put on the record the views of the executive branch, experts, other public officials and supporters, and opponents of the legislation.
Step 4: Mark up
When the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to “mark up” the bill; that is, make changes and amendments prior to recommending the bill to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies. If the committee votes for the bill, it is sent to the floor.
Step 5: Committee Action to Report a Bill
After receiving a subcommittee’s report on a bill the full committee votes on its recommendation to the House or Senate. This procedure is called “ordering a bill reported.”
Step 6: Voting
After the debate and the approval of any amendments, the bill is passed or defeated by the members voting.
Step 7: Referral to Other Chamber
When the House or Senate passes a bill, it is referred to the other chamber, where it usually follows the same route through committee and floor action. This chamber may approve the bill as received, reject it, ignore it, or change it.
Step 8: Conference Committee Action
When the actions of the other chamber significantly alter the bill, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is reached, a conference report is prepared describing the committee members’ recommendations for changes. Both the House and Senate must approve the conference report
Step 9: Final Action
After both the House and Senate have approved a bill in identical form, it is sent to the president. If the president approves of the legislation, he signs it and it becomes law. Or, if the president takes no action for ten days, while Congress is in session, it automatically becomes law.If the president opposes the bill he can veto it; or if he takes no action after the Congress has adjourned its second session, it is a “pocket veto” and the legislation dies.
Step 10: Overriding a Veto
If the president vetoes a bill, Congress may attempt to “override the veto.” If both the Senate and the House pass the bill by a two-thirds majority, the president’s veto is overruled and the bill becomes a law.
How to Develop Policies and Procedures
An overview of the stages in policy development.
Policy development involves identifying need, gathering information, drafting, consulting and review.
Stages in policy development
The following steps summarise the key stages involved in developing policies:
1. Identify need
Policies can be developed:
- In anticipation of need (e.g. child protection policies should be in place once an organisation starts to work with children or young people); and
- In response to need (e.g. a policy position on a government strategy may be developed in response to a consultation paper).
The organisation needs to constantly assess its activities, responsibilities and the external environment in order to identify the need for policies and procedures. (More on what policies you need to develop).
2. Identify who will take lead responsibility
Delegate responsibility to an individual, working group, sub-committee or staff members, according to the expertise required. (More on the management committee’s role in policy development).
3. Gather information
Do you have any legal responsibilities in this area? Is your understanding accurate and up to date? Have other organisations tackled the same issue? Are there existing templates or examples that you could draw on? Where will you go for guidance?
4. Draft policy
Ensure that the wording and length or complexity of the policy are appropriate to those who will be expected to implement it.
5. Consult with appropriate stakeholders
Policies are most effective if those affected are consulted are supportive and have the opportunity to consider and discuss the potential implications of the policy. Depending on whether you are developing policies to govern the internal working of the organisation or external policy positions, you may wish to consult, for example:
- Staff and volunteers;
- Management Committee members; and
- Service users or beneficiarie.
6. Finalise / approve policy
Who will approve the policy? Is this a strategic issue that should be approved by the Management Committee or is the Committee confident that this can be dealt with effectively by staff? Bear in mind that, ultimately, the Management Committee is responsible for all policies and procedures within the organisation.
7. Consider whether procedures are required
Procedures are more likely to be required to support internal policies. Consider whether there is a need for clear guidance regarding how the policy will be implemented and by whom. (E.g. a policy regarding receiving complaints will require a set of procedures detailing how complaints will be handled). Who will be responsible for developing these procedures? When will this be done? What will be the processes for consultation, approval and implementation?
How will the policy be communicated and to whom? Is training required to support the implementation among staff and volunteers? Should the organisation produce a press release (for external policy positions)?
9. Monitor, review, revise
What monitoring and reporting systems are in place to ensure that the policy is implemented and to assess usage and responses? On what basis and when will the policy be reviewed and revised (if necessary)? QUICK REFERENCE policy developmentroles and responsibilities
CODE OF GOVERNANCE CONTENTS
- Principle 1 – Role and Responsibilities+
- Principle 2 – Working Together+
- Principle 3 – Delivery of organisational purpose+
- Principle 4 – Exercising Control+
- Principle 5 – Being open and accountable+
- Developing Governance Group
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CODE OF GOVERNANCE CONTENTS
- Principle 1 – Role and Responsibilities+
- Principle 2 – Working Together+
- Principle 3 – Delivery of organisational purpose+
- Principle 4 – Exercising Control+
- Principle 5 – Being open and accountable+
- Developing Governance Group
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In partnership with the Developing Governance Group.
Developed by NICVA.
DIY Committee Guide by Volunteer Now is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0.
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- Categories of RiskThe risks faced by an organisation should be categorised in relation to what the organisation does. There are a number of commonly used categories which help to group risks according to the various aspects of the organisation and its activities which you need to consider.
- Chairing MeetingsOne of the most important roles of the Chairperson is steering a Management Committee through its business effectively and efficiently. A good Chair will be mindful of the following basic points!
- Changing Your Governing DocumentAs your organisation develops or grows, you may find that areas of your governing document no longer apply or restrict the organisation. If this is the case, it may be necessary to undertake a review of your governing document prior to any changes.
- Characteristics of a Good ChairpersonThe chairperson plays a key role on any voluntary management committee. Below are summarised some of the key qualities, skills and knowledge that are characteristic of an effective chairperson.
- Characteristics of a Good SecretaryThe role of Secretary of a Management Committee can be key to the efficient functioning of the Committee, particularly in organisations with few or no paid staff members.
- Characteristics of a Good TreasurerThe treasurer of a management committee plays a vital role. Below are summarised some of the key qualities and skills required for an effective treasurer.
- Charitable Status and Charity RegistrationIn Northern Ireland, a charity is defined as an institution which is established for charitable purposes only and is for the public benefit.
- Charities Trading, Tax and SubsidiariesMany charities trade, either as an integral part of their charitable activities or to raise funds. Some charitable groups/organisations set up a subsidiary (“business” or “trading arm”) as a way to generate income on a more substantial or permanent basis, which is a non-charitable trading company.
- Charity RegulationThe Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was founded in 2009 as a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Social Development.
- Choosing a Legal StructureWhen setting up a group or organisation you need to make a decision on the type of organisation to set up and its correlating legal structure.
- Clarifying Committee/Staff RolesThe relationship between Management Committee and staff can be a difficult one if the boundaries and roles are not clarified. These boundaries can often be difficult to clearly define, and can vary significantly amongst organisations.
- Common Law Duty of Care Help! SheetManagement Committee members are expected to ensure that their responsibilities and those of the organisation are carried out with due care.
- Community BusinessOverview of community business or social enterprise.
- Company Law Help! SheetIf your organisation is set up as a limited company, it is bound by the Companies Act 2006. This legislation lays down rules and procedures for companies concerning administration, reporting, disclosure of company details and accounting.
- Conducting a Risk AssessmentRegardless of the size or scope of the issues to be assessed, or the length of time available, the process of assessing risk involves the same basic key steps:
- Conflict Within Management CommitteesEvery management committee/board will face periods of conflict. But remember, conflict is not inherently unhealthy.
- Contracts Help! SheetOrganisations enter into various contractual agreements whilst carrying out their business.
- Data Protection Help! SheetIf your organisation processes and retains personal information regarding individuals, then you need to be aware of what you should be doing to protect that information.
- Dealing With Conflict: ToolkitThe default responsibility for dealing with conflict situations lies with the Chair, and this is assumed in the points below. If the Chair is party to the conflict, management committee members may wish to nominate someone from their membership to take responsibility for resolving the situation.
- Dealing With Damaging ConflictConflict within a committee or organisation occasionally blows up publicly, but more usually eats steadily away under the surface, draining the enthusiasm of those involved.
PUBLIC POLICY PROCESS
|What is Public Policy? |
Getting scholars to agree on a single, all-inclusive definition of public policy is no easy task.Broadly, we might say that a public policy is simply what government (any public official who influences or determines public policy, including school officials, city council members, county supervisors, etc.) does or does not do about a problem that comes before them for consideration and possible action.
Specifically, public policy has a number of key attributes:Policy is made in response to some sort of issue or problem that requires attention. Policy is what the government chooses to do (actual) or not do (implied) about a particular issue or problem.Policy might take the form of law, or regulation, or the set of all the laws and regulations that govern a particular issue or problem.Policy is made on behalf of the “public.”Policy is oriented toward a goal or desired state, such as the solution of a problem.
Policy is ultimately made by governments, even if the ideas come from outside government or through the interaction of government and the public. Policy making is part of an ongoing process that does not always have a clear beginning or end, since decisions about who will benefit from policies and who will bear any burden resulting from the policy are continually reassessed, revisited and revised.
No doubt, there are many problems in our communities that need to be solved. Some problems may readily be dealt with by actions taken in the private sphere (individuals and families) or by our civil society (social, economic, or political associations or organizations).Public policy problems are those that must be addressed by laws and regulations adopted by government. Your first task in civic engagement is to firmly establish that the problem you want to work on is, in fact, one which requires government
involvement to reach a solution.
Note: This material is adapted from An Introduction to the Policy Process, by Thomas A. Birkland (2011, M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY)
Project Citizen enjoys the active participation of members of Congress and State Legislatures, as well as support from local policy makers, and educational, professional, business, and community organizations across the nation. Policy makers play a very important role in helping to make sure that schools are enabling effective civic engagement for students.
How to Get Involved
Learn how other policy makers have participated in the program.
Need videos and sample legislation to support the program? Find them here.
Through our partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures, policy makers participate in the Back to School and Legislative Staff Connection programs.
The management committee has a key role to play in developing organisational policy.
Management Committees need to develop organisational policies in order to implement the strategic aims and priorities of the organisation.
Policies provide guidance so that each time a question arises about how to implement a broad decision, there are some parameters to inform the response. Policy guidelines articulate how an organisation’s overall mission and aspirations are to be pursued.
Management committee’s role in policy development
Depending on the size of the organisation and the role played by the Management Committee, committee members may not be involved in all stages of policy development. However, Management Committees should be confident that their established processes result in policies and procedures that:
- are in line with the organisation’s vision, mission and values;
- meet their legal responsibilities; and
- are effectively implemented.
This may be through delegation of responsibility for policy drafting to appropriately skilled and experienced individuals, and systems for reporting, approval and review by the Management Committee.
We usually think of organisations in terms of people who comprise them, but staff and volunteers come and go, while the organisation goes on. Policies and procedures describe its ‘ways of doing things’, evolve slowly and are largely adopted by newcomers.
What are policies and procedures?
Policies are the organisation’s stated position on a particular internal or external issue. They provide the written basis for an organisation’s operations and are secondary only to legislation and the organisation’s governing document. Procedures are the mechanisms for implementing policies. They outline the ‘how to’ instructions for implementing an area of policy.
Organisations’ skills and knowledge about doing their work are encoded in their policies, structures and procedures.
Policy frameworks are influenced by the strategic direction of the organisation and also by:
- External factors such as the law; and
- Internal factors such as the views of stakeholders such as the governing body, service users, management systems and the historic values of the organisation.
Thus they are means by which strategy is converted into front-line action.
The Management Committee should ensure that the policies of the organisation articulate:
- the management system which is focused on the most effective ways of delivering the service;
- the accountability system which is driven by the requirements of the committee; and
- the values system which is driven by the unique mix of different values, principles and commitment which shape an organisation.
Polices and procedures can help to protect the organisation, its management committee, staff, volunteers and beneficiaries by highlighting issues or principles and outlining the organisation’s exact response. Policies should be relevant and kept up-to-date. They benefit the organisation by providing:
- an ethical framework for all those involved in the organisation;
- a boundary for day-to-day operation (inside the boundary things are acceptable, outside the boundary they are not);
- continuity over time and accross the organisation; and
- a mechanism for ensuring that practice is consistent and equitable.
Procedures and systems
Procedures and systems are essential to an organisation’s ability to achieve their objectives. They:
- increase consistency, reliability and fairness;
- save on time and effort;
- ensure an effective method is used by capturing whatever has evolved as best pratice; and
- enable less experienced, less skilled or temporary staff or volunteers to learn quickly and contribute more.
Making a Law
A proposal for a new law or a change to an existing one is called a bill (see Bills and Laws).
- View details for The path of a bill
- View The path of a bill in a lightbox style window
- View/Download PDF of The path of a bill
- View/Download hi-res version of The path of a bill
The path of a bill
A bill can only become a law if it is passed by a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill must be agreed to in identical form by both chambers, and given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. It is then known as an Act of Parliament.
Stages of a bill
Most bills are introduced into the House of Representatives and then sent to the Senate. Bills may commence in the Senate, except for money and taxation bills. Most bills are introduced by government ministers; however, other members of parliament can introduce their own bills, known as private members’ or private senators’ bills.
Duration and number of bills
It may take weeks or even months for a bill to pass through Parliament. However, an urgent bill can be passed in a matter of days. About 200 bills are introduced into Parliament each year and about 90 per cent are passed into law.
The practice of the Clerk reading the bill aloud three times dates back to the early days of the British Parliament, before printing was invented or many people could read. The Clerk had to read the bill aloud so that members of parliament knew what the bill was about.
|How to Get Involved|
|Project Citizen enjoys the active participation of members of Congress and State Legislatures, as well as support from local policy makers, and educational, professional, business, and community organizations across the nation. Policy makers play a very important role in helping to make sure that schools are enabling effective civic engagement for students.|
Some ways to get involved with Project Citizen include the following:
meet with students to discuss public policy issues work to strengthen policies that promote civic education serve as evaluators and guest speakers at portfolio and hearing show cases sign and present award certificates speak at teacher training workshop support the efforts of the local and state coordinators in all aspects of the program implementation At the local level contact your state and/or congressional district coordinators for more information and suggestions on effective participation.
For contact information for your program coordinators in your state, visit our state program page.
Get Parliament online
Discover all about Parliament in one place with Get Parliament online.
Designed for teachers and students to explore Australia’s system of government and how Parliament works, Get Parliament online features detailed explorations of:
- The Australian Constitution
- Three levels of law-making
- How members of parliament are elected
- The houses of Parliament
- Parliament at work
- Getting involved in Parliament.
It includes additional information sections, videos, activity sheets and links to other PEO resources.
A printed version of Get Parliament can be ordered from the PEO.
Visit the Get Parliament online sub-site