Recently, we talked to a prospective client about the process that legislation must go through to be signed into law. Each state handles changes to bills differently throughout the amendment process. The text of a bill can change frequently while it is reviewed, discussed, and written into its final form. When choosing a legislative tracking system, you must understand the way your state handles these amendments and see if your tracking system can adequately produce the information you need during this process. There are two common ways that states handle these legislation amendments:
- Some states utilize a “strike-through process” by marking a passage that is deleted from the original text and then adding in the new text next to it. States that use this approach also tend to number the lines of the document so that they can specify that the text in line XX has been changed. Example: Here is the original text of this legislation and here is the section that has been struck and here is the section that has been added.
- Some states take a different approach and require that the original text never be touched and each set of changes to a bill becomes a wholly new document. In this approach, there end up being multiple, separate documents reflecting the legislation and the document with the latest date is the most recently approved version of the bill.
For the lobbyist, it is obviously critical that during the review process your legislative tracking system enables you and your staff to access the most current version of the bill. If your state uses the strike through process, then you will not lose any of the bill history because the original and the updated text are in the same document.
If your state uses the second approach and makes new documents for each amended bill, being unable to distinguish between the original text of a bill and its latest version can cause you to pursue action on a bill based on old information. However, you may still want access to the old bill documents before the amendments were added. In some cases we have seen bills be completely change from their initial text, changing their original purpose altogether. Having access to the textual history of a piece of legislation can give you insight on the original intention of the legislation. If your legislative tracking system only delivers the most recent version of the bill you may be missing out on some key information that can give you a better understanding on how to approach legislators about it.
When the time comes to choose a legislative tracking system, be sure to ask how the system handles amendments in your state. If the system doesn’t handle amendments the way your state does you may want to keep looking. For more information on how Legislative Tracking Systems can fit your needs be sure to read our blog post Legislative Tracking: Does One Size Fit All?