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Bill Writing Help

This section of the site will help you develop ideas for your bill, get through the research stages, and then write the bill in final form. It is a lot of work, but the more thought and work you put into your bill now, the better your bill will be in Springfield.

Finding a Bill Topic

Most bills brought up in the “real” Illinois Legislature were not written by a legislator thinking, “I have to write a bill, I hope I can come up with something.” Instead, they see a problem that is occurring in the state or in their district and draft a bill that will help to solve that problem.  To write the most effective bills, it may be helpful to follow the same process.

While you may think that since these bills are only in the Youth Legislature, they don’t have to be important or relevant. Who would ever read these besides other delegates? Real legislators, that’s who. Over the years in this program, many ideas for laws have been gathered by legislators from the bill book that you receive prior the Springfield weekend. You all have seen the Illinois license plates with the cardinal on them, right? That was a bill thought of by a bill group in the early nineties. Nearly everything in their bill was identical to the actual bill including the design of the plate.

Since you now know that your bill can have a real impact, you might as well try to solve a real problem. This is much simpler to do than you would think.

The first step is to learn about issues affecting the citizens of Illinois in different areas of the state.  That can be accomplished by scouring newspapers from a handful of different cities around the state either online or your local library.  Be sure to check publications from smaller towns as well as the larger cities to get a better view of the “big picture” and how certain issues affect different constituencies around the state.

Also, think back in your own life and look at your own experiences where you think something unfair has happened to you or your family. Has there been a situation in which you felt as though you, a family member, your school or your community as a whole has been treated unfairly?  If so, a law that could potentially “right a wrong” may work.

Finally, you may be able to check other states’ legislative dockets online and develop ideas from those. If you see certain trends forming across the country, it might only be inevitable that the State of Illinois will follow. If you tackle one of these trends early, then you may have a bill with a proven track record already behind it.

Before you start writing your bill, please make sure your bill topic is attempting to create, modify or delete an Illinois State law.  If your bill idea deals with an issue in which the Federal government has jurisdiction or is a state resolution (example: changing the state bird, creating a state card game, etc), you should find a different topic.

Also, you may not submit a bill that is substantially similar to a bill that was passed in the previous program yearIf you submit a resolution, a bill for a Federal law or one that is too similar to a passed bill from the previous year, you will be asked to start over.

Researching Your Bill

Now you have a great idea for a bill, but now what? Most would jump right into writing the bill, but there is one important step that you should do first to make the actually writing of the bill easier: Research.

Since bills nearly always offer either a solution to a recurring problem or provide resources to fill a worthy need, it is very important to first establish that there is an actual significant problem or need that needs to be addressed. Additionally, you should be able to show that the solution that you propose is worth the cost (in both time, money and other resources).

For example, it would be great to have a full fleet of police officers ready to arrest any street performers without permits all around the state. Is this really a problem, though? Is this a reasonably priced solution? If your answer is no to either question, it may be back to the drawing board.

The way you find the answers to these problems is by doing some heavy-duty research. You may find yourself searching all over the internet, looking through volumes of books, or making phone calls to state agencies, but it will help you immensely in the end. Please, whatever you do, don’t waste time making calls or conducting searches before you have an idea what you are looking for.

For example, if your bill deals with increasing the frequency of drivers’ tests for senior citizens, you might want to find out how many accidents were caused by different age ranges of drivers. Your best bet is to develop a number of arguments as to why there is a problem that deserves a solution and then set out to find data that reinforce your beliefs. It’s kind of like the scientific method from your science classes: develop a hypothesis and then find the data that you need to support it.

If your research shows that accidents occur more frequently in progressively older age groups, you may have proven that you have a legitimate bill topic.

Writing Your Bill

Now begins the process of crafting your solution to this problem into a bill that will solve it. If you have never written a bill for Youth & Government before, the best place to start is with your advisor. Hopefully, they have a bill book from a previous year that you can look at to see a handful of bills. After reading some bills, you should be able to get a good grasp of how sections are constructed, the tone of the language, etc. If you don’t have a past bill book to look at, you can always follow these guidelines.

First, download the bill template because it takes all of the guesswork out of trying to figure out where to put everything and how to get it lined up exactly right. There are boxes on the template for your sponsors, YMCA, and information on the section of the statutes that is being changed in addition to an area to put your bill content.

Time to Start Writing

This section will be focusing on everything below the “A BILL” line on your bill which includes the line identifying the statute being modified, the enacting clause, and the body of the bill. Your bill can create, amend or delete a section of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. If your legislation amends or deletes a section, list that section in this line. If it creates a section, find the best place that it would fit in the statutes, determine what section that would be, and list it in the line. The next line is the enacting clause. EVERY bill has the same enacting clause. This one is easy: BE IT ENACTED BY THE YMCA YOUTH LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS. The bill body is the hardest part. Bills should generally follow the same format:

  1. What the bill does
  2. Any penalties for not following the law (if there are any)
  3. Funding sources (if the law will cost money or other resources when implemented)
  4. When the bill goes into effect

In the first section, you should directly say what your bill does. If your bill bans smoking within 50 feet of the entrance to any licensed child care facility, then say “No smoking shall be allowed within 50 feet of the entrance to any licensed child care facility.” If there are any other details that are needed to clarify how the bill works, or any other items that should be included or excluded, they should be listed in the sections following your first section. There should not be any opinions, background information or potential debate defenses in your bill.  All of that should be left to your bill brief and your comments during debate time.

Next, you have to provide detail on any punishment or penalty that will be given out if the law created by your bill is not followed.   Is it a felony? Is it a misdemeanor? What class? Is there a fine involved? Are there scaled penalties for subsequent offenses? Whatever the answers, detail them in a section by itself.

Also, detail who has the responsibility of enforcing the law (State police, local police, state agency, etc). In the next section, funding sources need to be spelled out in detail. Will there be a tax? Will fines from this or another offense pay for the program?

Also, make sure that you do enough research to get a good idea of how much the bill will cost to implement so that you can determine how much will have to be raised to cover it. Don’t make the mistake of creating a bill that will cost $10,000,000 but then outlining funding that will only raise $50,000 a year.  Also, don’t make the mistake of not providing a funding source if your bill will need it.  If it isn’t there, you will definitely be asked about it in committee.

Finally, you have to say when the bill will go into effect. The bill always has to have the signature of the Youth Governor and usually has an effective date. Usually something like: “This bill will go into effect June 1, 2011 upon the signature of the Youth Governor of the State of Illinois.”

Constant Improvement

After your bill is complete, double and triple check it for typos, grammar problems and format mistakes. Also, have others read it to make sure that it makes sense and that there aren’t any obvious holes in it. You will get feedback at Pre-Leg 1 & 2 on your bill and make sure to take notes on what is said so that you can use them to make improvements. This is a year long process. Your first draft will not be perfect. Neither will your second. But as long as you keep at it, you will show up in Springfield in March with a well-written bill.