Policy Analysis in the Legislative Process

Today’s post is on policy analysis in the legislative process. Specifically, we’ll be exploring differences between the policy analysis process used in the California Legislature and the processes used in academia and elsewhere.

For anyone who has seen a bill introduced in the California Legislature that’s in print, one of the first items you see is a section titled The Legislative Counsel’s Digest. Is this actually an analysis of the bill? Not really. Instead, the purpose of the Legislative Counsel’s Digest is to succinctly describe what current law is, and then summarize the changes that are proposed in the bill.

Legislative proposals in California are analyzed by the staff of committees to which they are referred, as well as by the staff of the respective houses prior to a proposal coming up for a floor vote. As a result, a typical bill that makes it into law is analyzed as many as six times – by a policy committee in each house, by a fiscal committee in each house, and on the floor of each house.

In the California Legislature there’s no fixed policy analysis methodology, but there is one commonality that differentiates the policy analysis process in the Legislature from the process used in academia and elsewhere.  In the California Legislature, we find that policy analysis is generally focused on the evaluation of a specific proposal. In other words, rather than beginning the analysis with the definition of the problem, the analysis emanates from a proposed solution that is proposed in the bill.

The policy analysis methodologies that are taught in academia and used in other sectors tend to start from the definition of the problem and once the public policy problem is defined, then the analysis turns to identifying and evaluating various alternatives to address that stated problem. This policy analysis is usually a rigorous, multi-step process that involves a thorough analysis of the various alternative means of addressing the public policy problem.

While there are some practical realities that make it difficult, if not impossible, for legislative bodies and legislative staff to apply traditional policy analysis on each and every bill, this does not mean that traditional policy analysis cannot be infused into at least a portion of the legislative process. I explore some potential ways the California Legislature could do so in the podcast.

I think the legislative process would be better served in the long-term by providing greater policy analysis of both the problems and solutions being debated by members of the Legislature.