When drafting bills and amendments in this state, there are a number of key reminders that are worth reviewing. At a most basic level, every bill draft should clearly describe who’s required or allowed to do what, what’s required, or allowed to be done. Any necessary definitions should be provided. Any exemptions, penalties, and administrative issues such as record-keeping should be set forth.

There are several shortfalls that often occur with bill and amendment drafting that you should strive to avoid. Some of these shortfalls include using too much legalese, a failure to use terms consistently, and using unclear language.

There are some key reminders to keep in mind when you begin drafting legislation or amendments to legislation.

  • Spend sufficient time thinking through the bill. Think through the issues presented in the proposed legislation and how those issues will be addressed.
  • Be consistent throughout. Consistency is key. And consistency applies to not only the language  but also the organization of the statutory scheme that you’re dealing with. The language and organization of the legislation you are drafting should be consistent with the entire area of law that it fits into.
  • Use the active voice. It is important to identify the who and the what in the statute, such as the person required to do something and the mandate that is being imposed on them. That is best accomplished by using the active voice.
  • Use the singular term. You reduce the likelihood of confusion and ambiguity by using the singular term instead of the plural. A plural term, for example, could be interpreted to require more than one person to engage in certain conduct in order for there to be a violation of the law.
  • Refrain from using gendered terms. If a proposed law applies to all persons, there is no reason to use gendered terms like he or she. Additionally, using the plural term they could add confusion to readers trying to interpret and abide by the statute. It’s better to use gender-neutral terms like person, licensee, applicant, etc.
  • Use the present tense of verbs. Not using the present tense could create confusion as to whether or not the proposed statute applies retroactively.
  • Be concise. Use short, simple sentences. Try to avoid unnecessary language. Be direct. As long as you properly convey the intent of the proposed language, you should be okay.
  • Properly deal with statutory references. Make sure that the new statute is properly integrated with existing laws.

You can read the transcript of today’s audio here.