Drafting Bill Analyses

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By Chris Micheli

An important part of the California legislative process involves the preparation of analyses for legislators when considering bills before them. All of the committees prepare the first analyses of measures, then the floors, before the process repeats itself in the opposite house. When reviewing bill analyses, an observer quickly notes the different approaches taken.

For example, some committees pride themselves on lengthy and detailed analyses, while others focus on short summaries of the bill’s provisions. Some committees list groups in support and opposition, while others (primarily the fiscal committees) do not. Moreover, the Assembly and Senate committees have their unique views on how bill analyses should be structured, and individual committees within both houses have their different approaches.

Fiscal committee analyses are generally brief (usually one page, but sometimes 2 – 4 pages depending on the particulars of a bill) because they are focused on the fiscal impact of the bill, rather than the policy of the measure. On the other hand, policy committee analyses can run multiple pages, usually 5 – 10 pages depending on the substance of the bill. There are some policy committees, such as the Judiciary Committees, whose in-depth analyses of bills that come before their committees can be 25 or more pages in length.

While the format may be different among the committees and the houses of the Legislature, the following are generally the component parts of a bill analysis:

Number and author
Subject matter
Brief summary of what the bill does
Explanation of the problem
Discussion of existing law
Discussion of how this bill proposes to change existing law
Author’s statement of the need for the bill
Summary of support arguments
Summary of opposition arguments
Prior legislation on this topic
Pending legislation on this topic
List of supporters
List of opponents

There are two criticisms that are occasionally voiced about bill analyses. The first is that the analyses often do not consider other options to address the identified problem. In other words, the bill analysis will analyze the problem and the proposed solution as contained in the bill before the committee. They often do not consider what other options there are instead of this bill.

In addition, the bill analyses are generally limited to explaining existing law, how the particular bill proposes to change the law, and what the arguments for and against doing so are. However, many times there is not an explanation of particular language used in the bill. This presents a problem for practitioners and courts in determining the legislative intent behind particular words or phrases used in the bill.

For preparation of the Assembly and Senate Floor analyses, there are different approaches taken by the two houses. In the Assembly, the policy committee consultant who originally analyzed the bill usually prepares the floor analysis, and that analysis does not include a list of supporters and opponents. In the Senate, the Floor Analysis Unit compiles information, but the Senate policy committees prepare the analyses, which largely tracks the committee analysis and they do include a list of support and opposition.

Generally, if a bill was referred to more than one policy committee, the floor analysis will be prepared by the policy committee that heard the bill first. As both houses have noted to their staff, “an important aspect of these analyses is to accurately reflect the current support and opposition” to the bills pending on the floors.

Both houses believe it is the responsibility of the author’s office to provide all support and opposition letters to the appropriate committee prior to the bill reaching the Third Reading or Unfinished Business files. The analyses are updated to reflect the additional support or opposition letters received while the measure is pending on the floors.

Under the rules of each house, every standing committee prepares an analysis of every bill it has set for hearing, which must be made available to the public in the office of the committee at least one working day prior to the date on which the hearing is to be held. Most committees provide the analyses several days in advance of the scheduled hearing.

In the case of a special meeting, or a meeting of the Committee on Appropriations or the Committee on Budget, or their subcommittees, the analyses are usually made available to the public at the beginning of the hearing, although the Assembly Appropriations Committee normally releases their analyses a day or two before the scheduled hearing.

Under the rules, no question concerning a committee’s compliance with the rules with regard to any bill is in order following a vote on passage of the bill in that committee. Also, a copy of each committee analysis must be transmitted by the committee secretary (in the Assembly) or assistant (in the Senate) to the Floor Analysis Unit at the same time it is made available to the public.

The consultants of a standing committee are responsible for monitoring bills assigned to their respective committee throughout the entire legislative process. In the Assembly, except for resolutions and bills on consent, a consultant of the appropriate standing committee must timely prepare an analysis of every bill on third reading or the unfinished business file, and of any amendment to a bill that is on the Assembly Floor. Thereafter, the Assembly Floor Analysis Unit is responsible for final editing for grammar and format of all floor analyses.

Pursuant to the Senate Rules, with the exception of the Budget Bill and budget implementation bills (i.e., trailer bills), no bill, constitutional amendment, concurrent resolution, joint resolution, Senate resolution, unfinished business item, or report of a conference committee may be considered until an analysis has been prepared by the Office of Senate Floor Analyses and placed upon the desks of the Senators, unless otherwise ordered by the President pro Tempore.

In addition, an amendment from the floor is not in order until the amendment has been reviewed by the Office of Senate Floor Analyses. Upon a request by the Chair or Vice Chair of the Committee on Rules, or by the lead author of the measure to which a substantive amendment is proposed from the floor, an analysis is prepared by the Office of Senate Floor Analyses and placed upon the desks of the Senators.

Analyses of legislation serve several important purposes, foremost is educating legislators and their staff regarding what existing law is and how the particular bill proposes to change it. After enactment of legislation, these bill analyses are also valuable in ascertaining the intent of the Legislature.

Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also is an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.

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