How Our Laws Are Made
III. Sources of Legislation
Sources of ideas for legislation are unlimited and proposed drafts of
bills originate in many diverse quarters. Primary among these is the idea
and draft conceived by a Member or Delegate. This may emanate from the
election campaign during which the Member had promised, if elected, to
introduce legislation on a particular subject. The entire campaign may
have been based upon one or more such proposals. The Member may have also
become aware after taking office of the need for amendment to or repeal
of an existing law or the enactment of a statute in an entirely new field.
In addition, the Member's constituents, either as individuals or
through citizen groups or associations may avail themselves of the right
to petition and transmit their proposals to the Member. The right to petition
is guaranteed by the First
Amendment to the Constitution. Many excellent laws have originated
in this way, as some organizations, because of their vital concern with
various areas of legislation, have considerable knowledge regarding the
laws affecting their interests and have the services of legislative draftspersons
at their disposal for this purpose. Similarly, state legislatures may "memorialize"
Congress to enact specified federal laws by passing resolutions to be transmitted
to the House and Senate as memorials. If favorably impressed by the idea,
the Member may introduce the proposal in the form in which it has been
submitted or may redraft it. In any event, the Member may consult with
the Legislative Counsel of the House or the Senate to frame the ideas in
suitable legislative language and form.
In modern times, the "executive communication" has become
a prolific source of legislative proposals. This is usually in the form
of a message or letter from a member of the President's Cabinet or the
head of an independent agencyor even from the President transmitting
a draft of a proposed bill to the Speaker of the House of Representatives
and the President of the Senate. Despite the structure of separation of
powers, Article II,
Section 3, of the Constitution imposes an obligation on the President
to report to Congress from time to time on the "State of the Union"
and to recommend for consideration such measures as the President considers
necessary and expedient. Many of these executive communications follow
on the President's message to Congress on the state of the Union. The communication
is then referred to the standing committee or committees having jurisdiction
of the subject matter of the proposal. The chairman or the ranking minority
member of the relevant committee usually introduces the bill promptly either
in the form in which it was received or with desired changes. This practice
is usually followed even when the majority of the House and the President
are not of the same political party, although there is no constitutional
or statutory requirement that a bill be introduced to effectuate the recommendations.
The committee or one of its subcommittees may also decide to examine the
communication to determine whether a bill should be introduced. The most
important of the regular executive communications is the annual message
from the President transmitting the proposed budget to Congress. The President's
budget proposal, together with testimony by officials of the various branches
of the government before the Appropriations Committees of the House and
Senate, is the basis of the several appropriation bills that are drafted
by the Committee on Appropriations of the House.
Several of the executive departments and independent agencies employ
trained legislative counsels whose functions include the drafting of bills
to be forwarded to Congress with a request for their enactment.
The drafting of statutes is an art that requires great skill, knowledge,
and experience. In some instances, a draft is the result of a study covering
a period of a year or more by a commission or committee designated by the
President or a member of the cabinet. The Administrative Procedure Act
and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are only two of many examples
of enactments resulting from such studies. In addition, congressional committees
sometimes draft bills after studies and hearings covering periods of a
year or more.
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