How To Write A Bill

There are 5 main parts to writing a bill:

1. Choosing Your Topic

There are four good places to find ideas:

  1. Your community – listen to your parents, neighbors, and teachers when they complain or comment on something that the state should or should not be doing.  Many problems encountered in daily life can be addressed by the state legislature.
  2. News – what are the headlines saying?  What do “most NJ citizens” think are hot-button or important issues?  What problems are we, as a state, facing?
  3. TV shows – procedural shows especially, such as Law & Order or CSI, can sometimes give you ideas when legal loopholes are presented or made central to an episode.
  4. The Officer’s Topic List and Governor’s Agenda – these documents are chock-full of ideas and topics hand-selected by the officers.  However, don’t limit yourself to just those listed!

Remember, while issues that readily capture the imagination or interest of others lead to increased debate and activity on your bill, make sure to select an issue that you feel passionate about!  Your enthusiasm and interest will go a long way in getting people to care about your bill too.

2. Developing Your Idea

After you decide on a topic, there are a few key questions to ask:

  • How big is the problem?  Is anyone currently addressing the issue and how?
  • Does your proposal require:
    • A new law?
    • An amendment to a current law?
    • The repeal of an existing law?
    • An amendment to the State Constitution?
    • What are the repercussions if it does?
  • Find out what the present law is on the subject on both the STATE and FEDERAL level.
  • What is the “solution” to the problem you have identified?

3. Writing Your Bill

Make sure you cover the basics:

  • Who will this law affect and how?
  • Which specific agency will administer or monitor this law?
  • What will have to be created for the law to take effect?
  • What are the consequences if someone does not obey this law?
  • How much, if anything, will this cost?  Where will the funds come from?
  • Is your bill Constitutional?

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Definitions –define technical words at the start of the Body of the Bill.
  • Tense & Mood – use the present tense and indicative mood.
  • Grammar & Sentence Structure – use simple, short sentences.  Clarity is essential.  Proofread!
  • Choice of Words & Phrases – select short, familiar words that best express your ideas.  Exercise brevity!
  • In legislation, the word “shall” is a legal construction, which translates to must.
  • Numbers, Sums, Dates, etc.
    • Numbers less than 10 are expressed in words.  Numbers beginning a sentence are also expressed in words.  Fractions with whole numbers less than 10 are expressed in words.
    • Monetary Sums – one cent, 10 cents, $3, $3.65, $125, $2,000, $4 million, or $5,504,282.
    • Dates – June 1993, June 19, 1984, June and July 1995, January 14, June 29 to July 5, 1987, 10-month period, five-day grace period.
  • Limitations – you must state the scope and limits of the Bill.  Be clear and concise on what the bill is to do and what its purpose is.
  • Punishments for Criminal Acts – minimum and maximum sentences are required.  Use the phrase “the offender will be subject to imprisonment by the Department of Corrections for a time …”

4. Bill Formatting

All Bills must contain the following sections:

I:  Title

The New Jersey Constitution requires that a bill title cover only one subject and that the title be phrased to identify that subject.  The title serves as a means of identification not as a table of contents for the bill.

  • Begin the title with the phrase “An Act Relating to…
  • The subject is to be expressed in general terms, not in minute detail.  For example:
    • (i) “An Act relating to domestic animals” rather than “An Act relating to cats, dogs, birds, etc.”
    • (ii) “An Act relating to personal income taxes” rather than “An Act relating to tax exemption for minors and senior citizens”
  • If the bill repeals an existing law, use “An Act to Repeal New Jersey Statute…
  • It is standard practice to designate amended or repealed statutes in the title.
  • Nothing prohibits amending or repealing a number of laws in one bill as long as the parts all relate to one subject.  List all statute numbers in numerical order in the title.
  • Special Clauses
    • If a bill contains an appropriation, add the phrase “and appropriating money”
    • If a bill increases penalties, add the phrase “and adds increased penalties”

II:  Enacting Clause

  • Each bill is required to have the following phrase:
    “Be it enacted by the Youth Model Legislature of that State of New Jersey that …”
  • The remainder of the clause should specify what the bill will do.
    • Example:  “Be it enacted by the Youth Model Legislature of the State of New Jersey that a Technology Education Program be established in all public high schools.”

III:  Body of the Bill

  • This section details the text of the legislation.  It does the “work” of the bill.
  • There is to be separate numbered sections for each main idea of the bill or for each amendment.  Repeals are to be grouped together.  Sections are to be numbered with roman numerals.  Skip a line between each section.

IV:  Statement of Intent

  • Begin this section with the phrase “This purpose of this bill is …” and then describe what you hope to accomplish with the bill.

V:  Effective Date

  • Begin this section with the phrase “This bill shall take effect …” and specify a date or time period, such as “6 months after being enacted”.

VI:  Financial Statement

  • All bills cost something, even if it is just the cost of changing the law books –be as realistic as possible
  • All State revenue is currently designated – new bills will either require new sources of revenue or take money from somewhere else.

Amending Existing Statutes

  • When writing amendments it is important to make clear what the change or changes will be in the statute.
  • Use a separate amending clause in the body of the bill for each statute being amended.  It is not sufficient to simply state it in the title.
  • The new section or phrase shall be set forth at full length.
    • Example:  “NJS 171.0030 is amended to read ‘171.0030 – THE SENATE SHALL CONSIST OF 50 MEMBERS.’”
  • The new section or phrase shall be written in all capital letters.
  • Always cite the full statute number.

5. Ensure Bill Fits Requirements

All Bills submitted to the Program must be done by the following:

  • Bills must be submitted online
  • Bills must be typed in the aforementioned format in the online bill submission application.
  • All legislators MUST sponsor at least one bill.  Assembly members must co-sponsor one (1) additional bill, and Senators must co-sponsor one (1) or two (2) additional bills.
  • All sponsors MUST be from opposite branches of the same house (i.e. both the Senator and Assembly member must be in the Wilson Legislature to sponsor each other’s bills)
  • Bills not received by the deadline will NOT be included in the bill book.  Sponsors of late bills will be required to bring 200 3-hole punched copies to conference.
  • The program staff reserves the right to exclude inappropriate bills.
  • No two (2) delegates from the same delegation may have the same bill topic.

 

Need to look at an example?  Check out our sample bill!