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I can't imagine elected representatives come in with complete knowledge of how to write laws in legalistic language. The point of democracy is that people from all walks of life - most of whom are not lawyers - can participate in writing laws for the polity.

So who is responsible for translating the legislator's intention into bills which would later become law? Are they civil servants? Political assistants? Do they need a license or something to be in this line of work?

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  • The role is often called parliamentary counsel or legislative counsel.
    – xngtng
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 9:35
  • Legislative stafff who do this are sometimes called "bill drafters" Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 19:51

6 Answers 6

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As usual, details differ from country to country.

  • Many countries fund a couple of staff positions per legislator. One of them is probably going to answer the phones and read the mail, but more senior ones will be involved in policy, which involves the drafting and negotiation of laws. Some countries fund even more staffers either for organized groups of legislators (the parliamentary caucus of a party) or for the parliament as a whole.
    Look at the Congressional Research Service in the US, or the Wissenschaftlichen Dienst in Germany.
  • In many countries, most bills with any hope of passing originate not from individual legislators, but from a majority faction/coalition. The majority will have executive responsiblity and their cabinet members will have departments to propose or analyze laws. Often the cabinet rather than legislators will formally introduce the law.
    The term for this is right of initiative, which may rest with the legislators, the executive, yet another body, or all of them.
  • Political parties may be involved in the drafting of some laws. They have their own experts on staff, or know where to ask.
  • Finally, society does influence the writing of laws. This can be seen as positive ("if you write a law on endangered wetlands, ask a wetland protection NGO") or as negative ("if you want to reform the tax code, don't ask bankers or lawyers").
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    To add to the fourth point: "Society" of course includes lobbyists. My understanding is that lobbyists for various organizations may sometimes write entire laws or, at the very least, influence their wording significantly.
    – wonderbear
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 9:46
  • @wonderbear That's definitely true in the US. When you hear about the same laws being proposed in a number of states, it's often one that was written by an outside advocacy organization, which then finds legislators in each state to champion it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 15:05
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    @wonderbear, I picked the two examples intentionally. People would not think of wetland protectors as lobbyists or tax avoidance specialists as a grassroots movements. But there is a gray area in between.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 15:18
  • Point two seems misleading. The right of initiative is very much not the right of the majority faction or coalition. The right of initiative is the right for a minority of legislators to write and submit a a bill for debate and voting; only that vote will determine if a majority of legislators ultimately agrees. Concrete example: a Dutch "right to die" bill which split the coalition was submitted by a single legislator (Pia Dijkstra, D66).
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 21:38
  • @MSalters, I talked about the cabinet in the sentence immediately before, but you are right, a few more words make it clearer.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 6:47
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The vast majority of legislation that actually becomes law is produced by government ministers. They will have the assistance of civil servants to help write the text of the bill.

The particular group of civil servants is called the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel(OPC), a division of the Cabinet office. These civil servants are lawyers. They will work with the bill team in the government department that is introducing the bill to prepare the text - the department will provide specialist knowledge of the subject of the bill and the OPC will formulate this into clear but legally water-tight legislation (at least that is the theory!) The OPC has its own style guide

Other MPs can introduce bills, these are called Private Members bills. There are three types: There are 20 spaces for MPs to introduce a bill, these are chosen by ballot. Of these there is a possibility for the first or second to actually become law. The government may offer OPC assistance to aid in the drafting of the bill, the member will also get advice from their party's lawyers.

At first reading, only the title needs to have been written. It is only after first reading that the minster needs to provide the text of the bill for printing.

Then there are 10-minute-rule bills and Presentation bills. Presentation Bills are not an attempt to write new laws; If the bill receives a first reading it may be printed but no further action will be taken. The 10 minute rule allows for one member per week to speak for 10 minutes in support of their bill. In these cases the member only has to write the title of the bill. They will have the title read out in the chamber and (in the case of the 10 minute rule) have 10 minutes to speak. As there is no prospect of the bill reaching second reading, in many cases MPs won't actually prepare a text that is actually intended to become Law. On the rare occasions that these bills do become law, it is because they have been adopted by the government, or have received governmental support.

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In my state, it is generally the staff of the Legislative Research Commission (the supporting agency for the state legislature) who compose bills as directed by legislators. The particular office doing this is called "Bill Drafting" (chapter 9 covers the process of making the bills). The person who starts the process is the legislator themselves. Once the bill is introduced by a legislator, it becomes a public record.

Sometimes lobbyists present to legislators an example (usually called "model act") of what they would like passed. One lobbying organization responsible for why so many "red states" come up with the same legislation at the same time is called "American Legislative Exchange Council". ALEC gets around our state's laws on disclosing lobbyist activities by charging legislators memberships. The organization is controversial enough that there are groups who monitor their activities.

Graphical illustration of the process how a bill becomes law in Kentucky.

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(The other answers are stronger overall, but I did want to address one particular assumption in the question)

Without wanting to discredit the legal profession in any way, the question may also be starting off from a partially false premise:

I can't imagine elected representatives come in with complete knowledge of how to write laws

Why is that the case? Many US congress members come from the legal professions. Just short of 40% in fact.

In many Western countries, lawyers are well represented as well.

France has 6% lawyers at last count. Not nearly as much, but certainly well over the national average for professionals.

Which kinda makes sense, if you consider that the job of a legislator is to... legislate.

Other answers, giving minutiae on the details are correct. But one might also find that many of the sponsors of bills would have the professional chops to craft them, at least partly. Even when most legislators are not from a legal background that doesn't mean that there can't be a division of labor giving the legally-savvy more roles in bill creation.

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  • This seems more like a comment.
    – Jason C
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 20:43
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In Colorado's state legislature, most laws are drafted primarily by the non-partisan legislative services department of the Colorado General Assembly (incidentally, Colorado also handles "constituent services" on this basis). They work with legislators to get the basic idea and then draft bills to express the idea consistent with a state legislative style guide for statutory drafting.

Sometimes, legally trained legislators will draft legislative language themselves or have staff members (either their own or from a committee that they serve upon) do it for them. Tax and appropriations bills are particularly likely to be drafted by committee staff.

Some legislation is drafted by non-legislative committees that prepare uniform acts as models for state legislators to enact. The National Commission on Uniform State Laws, for example, does that, as do very other activist groups.

Some legislation is drafted by lobbyists.

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The legislature of many jurisdictions has an office for legislative counsels, who will provide legal advice to members of the legislature on the possibility and drafting of their desired policy.

In the , both houses of the federal Congress has an Office of Legislative Counsel (Senate, House of Representatives), a non-partisan office assisting members of each chamber with the drafting and formatting of legislation or other legislative resolutions.

In many parliamentary systems where government members are also legislators or otherwise have the right of initiative, the government (executive) will have its own staff lawyers that draft bills for government policies to be presented in the legislature.

In , there is an Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel in both Senate and House of Commons. It assists members of the Parliament with legislative drafting, and represents members in legal affairs involving their parliamentary duties. Government bills endorsed by the Cabinet are usually drafted by the Department of Justice. In some provinces, parliamentary counsels are officers of the legislature that provide drafting and legislative assistance services to members of the legislature, whereas legislative counsels are government employees under executive direction that assisting the government's policy goals.

The organization and extent of these legislative services differ by country and jurisdiction.

As mentioned by another answer, the UK has an Office of Parliamentary Counsel (to the government), but it is part of the Cabinet Office and only provides assistance to the government, although the government had undertaken to provide assistance to other bills that are likely to pass.

The offices of parliamentary counsels in Australia and several Australian states and in New Zealand are organized under the executive branch of the government, but have also the mandate to provide assistance to private members' bills.

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