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How to Write a Bill Proposal

If you have an idea you would like to present to the government, write a bill proposal. By writing a bill proposal, you can present an issue to Congress or your state legislature or city council. If your proposal is well written and makes cogent arguments, the legislative body may consider it, and may even vote on it. A bill proposal is simply a written letter stating the idea.

Develop an idea. A bill proposal begins with a good idea. You must then determine what type of bill it is. Private bills are bills that affect only a small group of people, such as a particular organization. Public bills deal with issues that affect a large group of people or potentially the entire population.

Research the issue. After the topic is chosen, find out as much information as possible. Check to see if there are any current bills that cover the issue you are writing about. Look into the potential benefits the bill would provide, if passed. Find out also if the bill would cause harm to any groups of people.

Write the bill. The bill proposal should be written in sections. At the beginning of the proposal, describe the issue. Discuss the benefits of the bill proposal and give examples. Give a detailed explanation of the costs involved in the bill and finally summarize the main points and benefits of the bill. Proposals are generally known to be documents that state a problem and a solution to the problem. Be sure to include the information in this way.

Include a table of contents. If the bill proposal is lengthy, write a table of contents that allows the readers to easily find and locate information contained in it.

Write a cover page. Prepare a title page that states the name of the bill as well as your name and contact information.

Give it to a representative. Find a local representative that will present the bill proposal to the intended legislative body for debate, and maybe, a vote.

How to Write a Legislative Proposal

Writing a successful legislative proposal requires brevity, passion and focus. As briefly and as plainly as possible, tell your legislator about the problem your proposal solves, how it solves it and the consequences of not acting on it.

How Proposals Originate

A legislative proposal may begin in Congress, but more likely it begins with a private citizen or an advocacy group seeing a need for legislation that improves a situation or solves a problem.

If you're the person inspired to write such a proposal, this means your primary goal isn't drafting a perfect bill for presentation to your city council, state legislature or Congress. Your goal, instead, is to write a proposal that may convince at least one legislator that your idea is a good one and should be drafted into law. Following formal legislative practices is less important than making a convincing argument and backing it up with evidence and facts whenever you can.

What Do You Want to Happen?

At the beginning of your process, think about what you want your proposal to accomplish. Be very clear about your goal. It always helps to see the idea in writing even though you may revise it many times before you submit your proposal. If you're having trouble getting what you want down to a focused sentence or at most two, you probably need to refine the idea further. Keep writing until you have a crystal clear sentence about what your proposal accomplishes.

Your Preamble: What's the Problem?

Once you have the goal clearly in mind, think about why that goal hasn't already been achieved. Usually, there are a few core obstacles standing in the way. State the existing obstacles in a few sentences in your first section, the preamble to the proposal. For instance:

"Our public utility doesn't give homeowners credit for solar power contributions to the grid that exceed their own residential usage. Three recent studies conclude that, despite power companies' frequent objections, power companies who have allowed customers to contribute unlimited amounts of energy back to the grid have eventually been able to lower residential energy rates without reducing net profits."

Note that the last sentence points to studies that overcome objections to your proposal. That's important, because every good idea has its detractors, so address these issues right at the beginning.

The Body of the Proposal

In your second section, the body of the proposal, define what you want to accomplish, and propose how you want it accomplished. Using the solar power example, you might begin:

"I propose enactment of legislation that will provide OLPC a five year moratorium on municipal taxes from that portion of its income derived from solar power and a residential property tax credit equal to 10 percent of all solar contributions to the OLPC grid over the same five year period."

An actual proposal might be longer and perhaps more detailed, but it's important to realize that what you're doing is selling something – your idea. In the above example, although it seems obvious that at some point the actual legislation will need to set forth a reliable method of determining how much of OLPC energy comes from solar power, that's not your job. Don't bog down your audience in details. Legislators know how to draft legislation and have staff to research and refine incoming proposals. 
They'll add the necessary details. You're providing the idea.

Wrapping it Up

Formal legislative proposals often have a final section called Enactment, in which the drafters provide a timeline for the bill to be voted on and to become law. Yours is an informal proposal, so you have no obligation to provide a timeline. Still, it doesn't hurt to offer a short concluding section that underlines the consequences of further delay in getting your proposal into law and the particular benefits of doing so quickly.

How to Write a Bill for State Legislature

Writing a bill for your state legislature is one way for concerned citizens or groups to have a direct impact on government. While citizens or organizations cannot introduce a bill – only a legislator can do that – writing a bill is a good way to begin the legislative process. What you write can affect the way state senators or representatives make decisions. The more preparation you put into a bill before presenting it to legislators that you want to sponsor it, the more likely they will be to help with your cause.

Research Existing Legislation

Research any previous legislation on the issue that is the subject of your bill. This could include laws in your own state, laws in other states, and federal laws regarding similar issues. For example, a law in one state banning the sale of fireworks might be a model for a similar law in your state. If you do find laws in other states similar to the law you want, try to find out how effective such laws have been.

Find Relevant Background Information

Look up background information pertaining to your issue. For example, if you wanted to write a bill to provide incentives for keeping businesses in the state, relevant background information might include unemployment rates, corporate taxes and data about businesses moving out of the state.

Contact Lawmakers to Sponsor Your Bill

Contact several lawmakers who might be willing to sponsor your bill. In state legislatures, many bills that are introduced never even get voted on by either of two houses of the legislature. Many bills never get out of committee and get to the floor of either house.

The more sponsors you can get, the better the chances that the bill will be treated seriously, recommended by committees, put to a vote by the full state Senate and the full lower house (which in most states in called the House of Representatives) and passed into law.

Begin with the Preamble

Begin the bill with a preamble, briefly explaining the reasons behind the bill. Since a bill should be presented as a legal document, clauses should begin with "Whereas," followed by the reason.

Write the Body of the Bill

Write the body of the bill. This should be broken into sections, with each section outlining a specific provision of the bill. For example, the first section might be the name of the bill, and each section that follows it would be a single piece of the bill.

Finish with an Enactment Clause

Finish the bill with an enactment clause, which can be a section of the body of the bill. This states when the bill would take effect if it is passed.

TIP:  Before you start writing your bill, get some copies of existing bills before the legislature to give you some ideas on how to structure you bill and what sort of wording to use. Before offering your bill to potential sponsors, you might want to show it to someone who knows a lot about the legislative process and who knows a lot about your state legislature. Such a person should be able to give you helpful advice.

Tips For Contacting a Legislator

Writing a letter to a Legislator

Use the proper salutation, for example:
The Honorable (first name) (last name) Address City, State, Zip code Dear (Assembly Member / Senator) (last name)

Be courteous and informative in your communication. State the purpose of the letter in the opening sentence and if you are referring to a bill, include the bill number, author and topic. If you live in the elected official’s district be sure to say this in the opening paragraph as well.

Focus on the message and key points. Personalize the letter by including examples of how the legislation might impact you and your family. Keep the letter brief – not more than one page.

Restate your request at the end of the letter, for example urging them to support or oppose the bill. Thank the legislator for his or her support and offer to address any
questions that he or she might have. Be sure to include your contact information, and sign the letter.

Sending an E-mail to a Legislator

Sending e-mail communication to a legislator The same guidelines apply to e-mail as to written letters. Before sending an e-mail, you might want to call the legislator’s office and ask if a letter sent by e-mail is effective. If you do send an e-mail, send it to the representative. Do not copy other representatives or send a mass e-mail. Make it a brief message with no special layouts or graphics. Do not include attachments. Include your full name and address so it is clear that you are a constituent, and ask for a response. You might also want to send a hard copy of your e-mail to the legislator.

Contacting a Legislator Over the Phone

Phone calls to a legislator State your name and address and identify yourself as the legislator’s constituent. You will often be speaking with a secretary or aide. Briefly make known your position as they keep track of the issues that people call about to report to the legislator. Have your thoughts organized in advance, which will help you to keep the call brief and to the point. It is also very helpful to share how the issue affects you personally. Thank them for their support.