Nine Steps to Write a Bill
Step 1 Define the Goal
Step 2 Research Existing Law
The Tennessee Code Annotated is a multi-volume series of books containing all of the laws of Tennessee. See the right-hand column for information about using the TCA.
A current law, if any, will affect how we draft our bill. If steamboat racing is already illegal, for example, we might want to make the existing law stricter. As it happens, we don't find an existing law against steamboat racing, so we will draft a bill to make it illegal.
Step 3 Act or Resolution?
An Act creates a new law or modifies an existing law. A Resolution expresses the General Assembly's opinion and doesn't create or modify a law.
We are creating a law against steamboat racing, so we're drafting an Act.
If we wanted to express disapproval of steamboat racing without making it illegal, we would pass a resolution ... A Resolution to Condemn Steamboat Racing.
Step 4 Bill Title (or Caption)
This begins with the words "An Act To" or "A Resolution To" and continues with a brief summary of the bill's contents.
Consider the title carefully because it can't be amended after the bill is introduced. If a bill is broader than its caption, it's unconstitutional. If changing an existing law, the title must mention the law being amended.
These requirements are based on the Tennessee Constitution: "No bill shall become a law which embraces more than one subject, that subject to be expressed in the title. All acts which repeal, revive or amend former laws, shall recite in their caption, or otherwise, the title or substance of the law repealed, revived or amended." (Article II, Section 17)
We aren't changing an existing law in our example, so none is mentioned in the title (also known as a caption). We can refer to an existing law by its Code section. If we were amending an existing law, we would add a phrase like this to the title:
Step 5 Preamble | optional
A preamble is optional, but many people like to include them.
The Preamble is the "Whereas" clauses at the beginning of the bill that establish the rationale or context for the bill. A bill can have more than one, but don't get carried away. Sometimes less is more.
Step 6 Enacting or Resolving Clause
This is standard language that precedes the body of the bill.
We're writing an act, so the operative word is "Enacted". If it's a resolution, substitute the word "Resolved". It is typed in all capital letters.
Step 7 Body of the Bill
Here is where we get down to business.
The body of the bill is broken into sections, each of which is numbered with Arabic numerals. A section may have more than one paragraph.
A section may have sub-sections, which are lettered. A sub-section may also have more than one paragraph.
Step 8 Effective Date | Acts only; not Resolutions
The final section of the bill tells when it takes effect.
The phrase "the public welfare requiring it" is added if the law takes effect less than 40 days after it's adopted, such as a bill that takes effect immediately.
Here is the relevant provision from the Tennessee Constitution: "No law of a general nature shall take effect until forty days after its passage unless the same or the caption thereof shall state that the public welfare requires that it should take effect sooner." (Article II, Section 20)
Step 9 Sponsors
Each bill must have at least one Senate sponsor and at least one House sponsor. The sponsors may be from different colleges. Multiple sponsors indicate the bill has more support.
Final Result Combining the Pieces
File the Bill Introduce the Bill
Submit the bill to the Secretary of State by filing it through your online Control Panel.
The Secretary of State's office will automatically format your bill, so perfect formatting for the version you introduce isn't crucial. It's much more important to get the words right.
State Laws Are Compiled
The Tennessee Code Annotated is the official compilation of all the laws of Tennessee.
It is available in printed form at nearly every public or university library, usually in the Reference department. The last three volumes are the index.
You can also access the TCA online.
It has an electronic search on the same web page.
Classes of Crimes
Tennessee law creates standard sentences for various classes of crimes.
Other criminal laws, in turn, simply specify that a violation is a "Class B felony" or "Class C misdemeanor", which refers to section 40-35-111 of the TCA.
Remember, this applies to crimes only. The vast majority of laws (and bills) aren't crime-related.
40-35-111. Authorized terms of imprisonment and fines for felonies and misdemeanors.
(a) A sentence for a felony is a determinate sentence.
(b) The authorized terms of imprisonment and fines for felonies are:
(1) Class A felony, not less than fifteen (15) nor more than sixty (60) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), unless otherwise provided by statute;
(2) Class B felony, not less than eight (8) nor more than thirty (30) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), unless otherwise provided by statute;
(3) Class C felony, not less than three (3) years nor more than fifteen (15) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), unless otherwise provided by statute;
(4) Class D felony, not less than two (2) years nor more than twelve (12) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000), unless otherwise provided by statute; and
(5) Class E felony, not less than one (1) year nor more than six (6) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed three thousand dollars ($3,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.
(c) A sentence to pay a fine, when imposed on a corporation for an offense defined in title 39 or for any offense defined in any other title for which no special corporate fine is specified, is a sentence to pay an amount, not to exceed:
(1) Three hundred fifty thousand dollars ($350,000) for a Class A felony;
(2) Three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) for a Class B felony;
(3) Two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000) for a Class C felony;
(4) One hundred twenty-five thousand dollars ($125,000) for a Class D felony; and
(5) Fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) for a Class E felony.
If a special fine for a corporation is expressly specified in the statute which defines an offense, the fine fixed shall be within the limits specified in the statute.
(d) A sentence for a misdemeanor is a determinate sentence.
(e) The authorized terms of imprisonment and fines for misdemeanors are:
(1) Class A misdemeanor, not greater than eleven (11) months, twenty-nine (29) days or a fine not to exceed two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute;
(2) Class B misdemeanor, not greater than six (6) months or a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute; and
(3) Class C misdemeanor, not greater than thirty (30) days or a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute.
[Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 6.]
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I change my bill after it's introduced?
Draft an amendment on the Amendment Form available from the Clerk or from the Secretary of State.
Submit it to the Committee Secretary if the bill is pending in committee. Submit it to the Senate Clerk or House Clerk if the bill is pending on the floor.
You may not amend the title.
What if I want to re-write my bill entirely?
If the new version of the bill would still fit within the bill's original title, you may write an amendment that replaces the entire body of the bill.
If the new version of the bill would be broader than the bill's title, you'll have to draft a new bill with a revised title and submit it to the Secretary of State to re-start the process, if the filing deadline hasn't passed.
What if the title is broader than the bill?
It's common for bills to be amended to the point that they don't do everything the title promises.
For example, someone might introduce a bill to ban smoking in restaurants. In committee, the bill is amended to apply only to restaurants where children are present. Consequently, the title is broader than the body of the bill. That's constitutional.
The goal is for the title to be all-inclusive.
Does this suggest a broad, vague title?
Perhaps. On the other hand, a narrow title limits amendments that might be proposed.
If the title says a bill bans smoking in restaurants where children are served, it precludes an amendment that would broaden the bill to cover all restaurants because the amendment would make the bill broader than the title.
If the title is too vague, a court might rule the bill unconstitutional because the title wasn't an adequate summary of the bill.
Also, remember that if amending existing law, cite it in the title.
What is the authoritative source of information on these issues?
The official Rules of Order adopted by the Executive Council are the final authority on all issues of rules and procedure. The information on this page is provided for the convenience of delegates and doesn't supersede the Rules of Order.