The NCSL Blog


By Brenda Erickson

Have you ever thought about what a bill is—in the legislative sense that is? No? Well, let’s consider it.

Senate bill from PennsylvaniaA bill is a draft of a proposed law presented to the legislature for its consideration. In other words, it is an idea for a new or revised law, presented in the official format authorized by the legislature. Tens of thousands of them are introduced in state legislatures each year. 

Each legislature has its own format or style for bills, but there are common elements.

Let’s take a look at a bill’s parts. Some parts of a bill are required, while others are provided for convenience.

  • Bill number. A bill number is just that—a number assigned to track the bill. Technically, the bill number is not part of the act, but is a convenient device for identifying the measure as it flows through the legislative process.
  • Author or sponsor. The legislator who introduces a bill for consideration is called the bill’s author or sponsor. The chief author may be joined by other legislators, called coauthors or cosponsors. Authors may be required to be from the same chamber—that is, all from the Senate or all from the House or Assembly. Some legislatures allow joint or cross sponsorship, which occurs when a bill has authors or co-authors from both chambers.
  • Title. The title is a concise statement of the contents of a bill. Most state constitutions require bills to address a single subject, set forth in the bill’s title.
  • Enacting clause. The enacting clause follows the bill’s title and precedes the body of the bill. It is a statement declaring enactment by the proper legislative authority, and the usual wording is “Be it enacted by …” Every bill must contain an enacting clause. The clause is mandatory for the validity of a law.
  • Body. The new or amended language of a proposed law is set forth in the bill’s body. The body may be broken into parts or sections, with each part or section dealing with one code section to be created or amended. New language often is highlighted by underlining or capitalization. Strikethrough or bracketing are common mechanisms to indicate language to be removed.
  • Effective date. The effective date establishes when the law (or a portion thereof) takes effect. An effective date may not be required, but probably will be included if a law is to become operative at a time “outside the norm.”
  • Emergency clause. An emergency clause is a statement indicating the act will take immediate effect. Inclusion of an emergency clause may increase the vote required to pass the bill.
  • Bill jacket. A bill jacket is a protective covering or backing placed on a bill. The jacket usually contains the bill number, names (or signatures) of the bill’s authors or sponsors, and a dated tracking of the bill’s progress through both chambers of the legislature. Bill jackets may be colored, and in some legislatures, the color may indicate in which chamber the bill originated. For example, yellow for Senate bills and green for bills from the House or Assembly. If you are looking online, you probably won’t see a bill’s jacket.

The next time you look at a legislative bill, will you be able to identify its various parts? Give it a try.

Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.

Email Brenda.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.