County attorneys and staff may be called upon to draft local or general bills or amendments that will be considered by the General Assembly. While this process may appear to be similar to drafting ordinances or contracts, there are different requirements that must be met in drafting legislation. The following information has been prepared to help county attorneys navigate this process.
Office of Legislative Counsel
The Office of Legislative Counsel is responsible for drafting bills and resolutions for members of the General Assembly. To date, there are 11 full time attorneys who are tasked with drafting legislation for 236 members. Each member of legislative counsel is assigned a permanent two digit number that is included on each bill they draft. This number is combined with that attorneys total drafted bill count to make up the “LC number” which can be found on the top right hand corner of each bill, e.g. LC 18 0031. This number will not only tell you who drafted the bill (18) but a change to the last four digits will indicate that the bill has been altered from the previous version.
Whether the bill draft was prepared by a county attorney or by working in conjunction with a member of legislative counsel, all bills must be processed through this office before they can be formally introduced. Although legislative counsel can speak to county attorneys about general issues without special permission, they cannot work with county attorneys to prepare or amend legislation, or prepare notices, until the legislative sponsor has granted them permission to do so.
All bills have a preamble, substantive sections, a conflict statement and an effective date or equivalent. The preamble provides a brief description of the purpose of the bill. In recent years, the Office of the Attorney General and the courts have used the language in bill preambles to determine legislative intent. Therefore, it is very important that the preamble of the bill clearly states the purpose of the bill. The substantive sections contain changes to existing law or the new language being offered. The conflict statement repeals any laws that are in conflict with the bill.
For general bills the effective date can be specifically stated, based upon the date of the Governor’s signature, or if no date is provided, the default effective date is July 1st. Effective dates for local legislation are a bit different. These bills are either effective upon the date specified in the bill or if there is no effective date, it is effective upon the signature of the Governor. It is very important to note the distinction.
Preparing the Bill
For general bills, deletion of text is represented by striking through the existing language and the addition of text is represented by underlining the new language. At times, if an entire section or area of law is being completely reorganized and rewritten it may be more appropriate to show all changes as new by underlining them and not by providing strikes. In the case of local bills, strikethroughs or underscores are not utilized. Old text is simply omitted and replaced by new text.
While it may appear to be easier to prepare bill drafts by using track changes, this format will actually slow down the process in the Office of Legislative Counsel because it will have to be completely reformatted. Bill drafts can be provided to the member or legislative counsel electronically or in hard copy, however it is recommended that they be submitted electronically to help expedite the process and make changes in the future.
In order to introduce local legislation, O.C.G.A. § 28-1-14(a) requires that a notice must be posted in the county legal organ not more than 60 days prior to the date of the convening of the legislative session. The notice need only run one day and must run no later than the week prior to the week for which the bill is introduced. The last day of the week that the notice can run for which a bill can be introduced the following week is on a Saturday.
Either the county or the bill sponsor can post the ad in the legal organ. The notice needs to be broadly stated as to the subject matter of the bill to be introduced and should reference the 2012 Session of the General Assembly. If the notice is drawn too narrowly, it could cause drafting problems and could prevent the legislation from being introduced as intended. The Office of Legislative Counsel can assist with this process, but as previously stated, only if a legislator has provide their consent.
Bill Drafting Tips
Legislation should be written with a clear meaning. Laws that are unclear or vague are more likely to be challenged or misinterpreted.
Check the Code section that is being used as the base for the bill draft to ensure it is the most recent version.
Define terms. Often there may not be a definition provided in the Code for what needs to be a term of art, or conversely there may be a definition but it is not the one that needs to be used for that particular Code section.
Check all Code sections cross referenced in the draft to ensure they are correct. This is especially important in bills that have been carried over from the previous session.
Review effective dates. If a bill is carried over from one session to another, make sure the date is still valid. For bills that are being created, think about the lead in time that may be necessary in order to implement the legislation when establishing the effective date.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Many of the local bills that are introduced have been introduced before by other counties, such as homestead exemptions, redevelopment powers, form of government changes, etc. If your county needs to introduce a bill of this nature, check the General Assembly website at www.legis.ga.gov and search for local bills that were introduced in previous sessions for examples. Most local bills that are introduced in the House are assigned to the Intragovernmental Coordination Committee (ICC) and most local bills that are introduced in the Senate are assigned to State and Local Governmental Operations (SLGO).
Check the LC (legislative counsel) number on the upper right hand side of the bill to ensure that the version of the bill that is being amended is the latest version. The last four digits can be compared to previous versions. Typically, the higher number will indicate the more recent version. This is especially important with bills that have multiple iterations.