McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

To those who are not operating in or around the California State Capitol, sponsored bills are relatively unknown. However the media often focus on sponsored bills in a critical manner making matters confusing. In Congress, the term sponsor means the legislator whose name is on the bill. However in the California Legislature, the legislator whose name is on the bill is called the author rather than the sponsor. In California, sponsor refers to the individual or the group who brought the bill to the legislator, who then authors the measure on behalf of that sponsor.

The media’s claim is that legislators and legislative staff don’t fully understand the contents of a sponsored bill, and that the sponsor gets to call all the shots related to that sponsored bill. Or worse, the media will claim that legislators or their staff do not even have to do any work for a sponsored bill.

These criticisms are unwarranted. Legislators often solicit bill ideas from individuals or groups. Some legislators sponsor “There Ought to be a Law” contests, or solicit ideas by other means. Of course, legislators are expected to be responsive to their constituents, to community groups, or other organizations from their district or around the state. All of these groups are examples of sponsors who bring forth ideas for legislation to be considered by the California Legislature.

Even with a sponsored bill, the author and his or her staff must do a lot of work for the bill, just as if they were the ones who came up with the original idea for that bill. They have to work with the Legislative Counsel’s Office to draft or revise the bill language and any amendments, they also have to develop the bill’s fact sheet, which usually discloses the bill’s author, and sponsor, and other relevant information that’s used to promote the bill. Even if the sponsor writes the initial materials, they’re almost always revised by the author and the author’s staff. In addition, the author’s staff will complete the committee background materials, they’ll write talking points, they’ll solicit groups to support the measure, they’ll deal with opposition to the bill, they’ll work with the committee staff, the floor staff, leadership staff, and of course, they themselves will advocate for the bill with staff of other legislators in both houses.

Ultimately, the sponsor’s name is not on the bill, the legislator’s name is. By the way, sponsors are always listed on policy committee analyses so that other legislators and members of the public know who brought forth the bill to the particular legislator. In California there’s a fair amount of transparency when it comes to the legislative process, as opposed to a number of other states that don’t even list supporters and opponents of bills, let alone the sponsoring organization or individual. Moreover, it’s rare that a bill analysis will not call out a potentially self-serving piece of legislation that benefits the sponsor of that particular bill.

You can find a full transcript of today’s podcast here.