Guide to Writing Effective Legislation

As you prepare your legislation for the upcoming Model Congress you may find this "Guide to Writing Effective Legislation" written by Robert Hawkins helpful. Robert was a longtime participant in Model Congress both as a high school attendee and as Legislative Chairperson. Robert graduated from American International College in 2002.

Part I

Every piece of legislation, from acts of Congress to a City Council ordinance, comes from an idea that someone had. The task of finding a topic to write a bill on can prove to be the most strenuous part of the writing process. Doubtless many of you have ideas for legislation already, and the following steps should be taken as suggestions as to how to determine whether an idea will make an effective bill, not as restraints on what topic to write your bill.

We recommend that bills for Model Congress be:

1. Debatable

While it is not necessary for bills written in actual government to have debate value (arguably lack of debatability is an asset) for a Model Congress, where the entire purpose of the conference is quality debate, this is the most essential element of any idea. Though a solid bill that is passed with little or no debate can be satisfying to a delegation, it removes one of the most fun elements of this program, debate! As a suggestion, if no one in your entire delegation (including your advisor) can find and logical points against the idea it may be an undebatable bill.

2. Legal

While no one here at the Model Congress can claim to have the experience of a Supreme Court Justice, a basic grasp of constitutional law is an essential tool for writing legislation. While the line-item veto may indeed be a valuable tool, the idea was struck down as unconstitutional recently. Any new idea is acceptable, but laws already deemed unconstitutional will not pass committee at A.I.C. As such, the bill cannot be made into law. The argument of "that's not the place of Congress to determine" may be true, but to write a bill one knows is unconstitutional is frivolous and insulting to one’s fellow delegates. Write the bill as a constitutional amendment. On, a final note, never assume no one will know your bill is unconstitutional. There are delegates who enjoy using that argument to strike down bills.

3. Original

There are some ideas that, although quite debatable and legal, have been "done to death." Such ideas as the elimination of the draft, campaign finance reform, legalization of euthanasia, and abolishment of the electoral college are very good ideas, but are so common that everyone knows the arguments both for and against, and produce little novel debate. Such ideas can be used, but could perhaps be modified. For example, reforming campaign finance as a constitutional amendment to get around the violation of free speech argument is a novel approach to the topic.

4. Have Broad Appeal

Many bills that come before Model Congress have to do with issues that affect teens personally, such as increased federal aid in college. Remember to write bills for constituents, not oneself.

Part II

Once you complete the first and most important step in bill writing and finally have that perfect idea for your bill, its now time for the meat and potatoes of the work, turning that idea into a great bill.

1. Sections

Begin the bill with a short sentence that begins with, "The purpose of this bill it to..." While this sentence has no legal effect on the bill, and as such cannot be amended, it may be helpful so fellow delegates can get an idea as to the topic of the bill.

After this, the actual text of the bill begins. Always start with the phrase "Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress assembled that..." followed by the purpose of the bill.

Section Two should contain any definitions in the bill. However, note that you only need definitions for two reasons, if no such term has ever before been defined in legislation before or if your definition is different from the legal use of the phrase.

After that, the next section will contain what the bill does in detail. As an example, I wrote a piece of legislation on setting up federal colleges. Sections dealing with where the colleges would be located, what they offered, who would teach there, who would be accepted, what facilities they offered, and where the money came from were all written. Do not forget any point or leave out things you see as minor details, it may help you in the future.

Delegates often ask about funding. While you do not have to come up with a source for the funds you need to implement your idea; you may do so if your wish.

2. Debating the Bill Beforehand

Once your first draft has been written, have your entire team debate it as a whole. Make certain anyone opposed to the idea is given full chance to speak and listen to him or her, do not try to prove them wrong. You will gain valuable insights as to what arguments you may face. Nothing deflates an opponent more than "Well I am glad you asked that, I had thought of that very point", followed by why he/she is wrong. After a few of these your opponents may get a bit intimidated and you have won the debate. And be prepared to alter your first draft to take into account what they have said.

3. Final Prep

While the information above should be considered helpful, do not let it be the last word in preparing your bill. Get advice from anyone willing to give it but remember in the end it is you who will present the idea, it's your bill!

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