Writing a Law?
October 3, 2005 9:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in getting a law passed. The details of said law are unimportant at this point. My question is where to start. How does one write legalese? Are there any sources (electronic or print) that would help or organizations that help grass roots movements?
posted by nosophoros to Law & Government (12 answers total)
You don't need to write the law yourself. Setup a non-profit and start fundrasing. Then hire a lawyer to write your legislation (You'll want it to be air-tight)
posted by delmoi at 9:18 PM on October 3, 2005

If you are talking about a local ordinance, you should go to city council/planning commission/design review board meetings and get the ball rolling with a calm, reasoned appeal during the public comments segment of the meeting.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2005

Oh dear... yeah, you're years away from needing to draft the thing. What delmoi said; you're basically going to be lobbying your representatives (to whatever body... local? state? federal?) to pass this thing for you. They'll need to be convinced based on its substance, not its legalese. Even if you don't envision yourself as a lobbyist, you've at least got some petition drives ahead of you.
posted by rkent at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2005

I think the details do matter if we're going to answer this question:

What government would you have pass the law?

How "radical" a change does it propose? Does it amend previous legislation or write a completely new law?

Whom/what does it target?

What kind of argument can you make for its passage? Is there a body of research that supports it?

Who'll pay for it?

Naturally, if you've just come up with the idea then you won't be able to answer all these questions yet. But you'll need to well before it's introduced in the Senate/Parliament/City council.

Based on what you've given, I'd suggest doing a gut-check: how committed are you to passing this law? Second thing, provided you pass the first: shop the idea (not the drafted bill) around to established organizations who might be sympathetic to your cause. Odds are, if there's an organization devoted to it, they might have experience with the exact idea you're pushing. If not, they can direct you further.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 10:24 PM on October 3, 2005

If this is a state law we're talking about, and for the sake of argument we'll say it is as that's all i have experience with, your state assemblymembers and senators may be especially resistant should they be approached with already-drafted legislation. In fact, I think they might just show you the door. Approach a sympathetic legislator at the state level and persuade them of the need for this law; they have a staff of committee analysts and consultants whose job it is, with the legislative counsel's office, to write legislation.

it's not hard to get worthwhile and necessary laws passed; it happens every day.
posted by luriete at 10:25 PM on October 3, 2005

on preview: echoing JJ86, for those on dial-up

BOY: Whew! You sure gotta climb a lot of steps to get to this Capitol Building here in Washington. But I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is?

BILL: I'm just a bill.
Yes, I'm only a bill.
And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it's a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It's a long, long wait
While I'm sitting in committee,
But I know I'll be a law some day
At least I hope and pray that I will
But today I am still just a bill.

BOY: Gee, Bill, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage.

BILL: Well, I got this far. When I started I wasn't even a bill. I was just an idea. Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called their local Congressman, and he said, "You're right, there oughta be a law." Then he sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Congress. And I became a bill, and I'll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law.

I'm just a bill
Yes I'm only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, now I'm stuck in committee
And I'll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
How I hope and pray that they will,
But today I am still just a bill.

BOY: Listen to those Congressmen arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you.

BILL: Yeah, I'm one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they decide toreport on me favorably, otherwise I may die.

BOY: Die?

BILL: Yeah, die in committee. Ooh, but it looks like I'm gonna live! NOW I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.

BOY: If they vote yes, what happens?

BILL: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.

BOY: Oh no!

BILL: Oh yes!

I'm just a bill
Yes, I'm only a bill
And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I'm off to the White House
Where I'll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I'll be a law.
HOW I hope and pray that he will,
But today I am still just a bill.

BOY: You mean even if the whole Congress says you should be a law, the president can still say no?

BILL: Yes, that's called a veto. If the president vetoes me, I have to go back to Congress and they vote on me again, and by that time you're so old ...

BOY: By that time it's very unlikely that you'll become a law. It's not easy to become a law, is it?


But how I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

MAN: He signed you, Bill. Now you're a law!

BILL: Oh yes!!!
posted by Alt F4 at 3:38 AM on October 4, 2005

There is no point in your writing the bill at all, or in getting a lawyer to write it for you; it'll just get rewritten by the office of your legislature that is in charge of such things. The text of the law is the least of your problems. What you want is what others have said: lobby a legislator to get the bill submitted. If you've never done such a thing before, contact state agencies or lobbying organizations in your area with expertise in whatever the bill's going to be about. Some states (such as Maine) do have a thing called a citizen's initiative, where you would indeed submit the bill yourself, but again you've got to rally LOTS of support for this kind of thing to work. It's not something you can do on your own if you want to be effective.
posted by JanetLand at 5:28 AM on October 4, 2005

JanetLand is correct. You need to worry about -- and lobby for -- the broad concepts of the law, not its actual text. The actual writing is handled relatively late in the process by legislative professionals. Then it's torn to shreds in committee, pasted together in the House, added on to in the Senate, then vetoed by the President.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:27 AM on October 4, 2005

It's easier simpler to get a new bylaw passed if it's in municipal jurisdiction. That is - if your city or town is allowed to make the rules about that stuff, there's relatively fewer and quicker hoops to jump through assuming you can get some members of council to support the idea.
posted by raedyn at 8:33 AM on October 4, 2005

As a professional lobbyist, let me offer a couple of suggestions.

You are correct to worry about the words of the law. How it gets drafted and by whom matter a great deal. However, depending on the jurisidction you are in (State, County, Local), there may be mechanisms in place to help you draft the bill already. Many State Legislatures rely upon either partisan or nonparisan staff to draft their bills. Usually I can find a friendly legislator to get the nonpartisan staff to draft a bill that I can review and amend as needed.

For me to get to that step, however, I need to find friendly legislator that may have an interest in sponsoring the bill. I usually try and assess the legislative path the bill might take (which committees it will go through) and find a sponsor on one of the committees.

Lastly, in terms of resources for grassroots support, I would look to PIRG or Citizen Action, or some of the other pre-existing grass roots organizations for help. Even if they don't care about your issue, they would probbaly be willing to offer some advice.
posted by szg8 at 9:16 AM on October 4, 2005

Check this out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2005

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