Q&A Tuesday: Lawmakers rely on legislative counsel for information Photo:2311782,left;Photo:2311782,left;Photo:2311782,left;Photo:2311782,left;
Brenda Erdoes’ title is legislative counsel – head of the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Legal Division. As such, it is her responsibility and that of her staff to provide lawmakers with legal advice on any issues requested as well as to draft legislation from individual lawmakers, agencies and other sources for the 2005 session, which begins in February.
She has been with LCB Legal since 1980. She was promoted to legal counsel 10 years ago when Lorne Malkiewich became executive director of LCB.
Who can ask for legislation to be drafted?
Senators get 20 bills before session and Assembly members get 10 apiece. They also get a quota of additional requests for use during the session itself. Different state agencies have the right to request bills. The executive branch as a whole gets 125 and there are separate requests for each of the constitutional officers. Local governments get a certain number of requests and the different legislative committees studying issues are assigned a certain number of bill-draft requests.
If a member of the public wants legislation, they have to go through one of those groups. We normally advise individuals interested in a specific legislative proposal to start by asking their senator or assemblyman. Or we tell them it might be more appropriate to go through the chairperson of a specific committee.
How is proposed legislation drafted?
In the case of a legislator, it starts with a request, which they can do in any form. Sometimes they write it out or present us with a draft or something written up by a constituent group. But often, they just sit down and tell us what they want.
The bottom line is we try to get from them what problem are they trying to solve or what are they trying to do. We have two house advisers who do this, and I take requests. It’s an art to take requests because if you don’t get it right, you’ve wasted a lot of people’s time and you have to do it again.
Sometimes you get ideas how to do it from model legislation from organizations like the Council of State Governments. We check to see what other states have done because there’s no point reinventing the wheel. Sometimes you ask the research division for some help, or the fiscal division.
The actual legislation is written by the legal division’s staff (which includes about 30 lawyers).
Is every piece of legislation drafted actually introduced and what happens if a lawmaker asks for a bill but then loses the election?
Once a bill is drafted, it’s up to the committee, agency or legislator to actually introduce it. It may not get introduced at all. Sometimes that’s because some bills were requested up to a year earlier and situations change, making agencies pull back their bill requests. Or political situations change and a legislator may decide not to introduce a bill. It’s up to them.
A lot more bills will be pre-filed at the start of the session this time since they changed the law to pre-file not only bills from legislators but agency and local government bills. That way the Legislature will have more work to do earlier instead of committees waiting until bills are introduced.
Most of the bills requested by members who either lose or don’t run again get picked up by other legislators – even by their opponent when it’s legislation important to the district. In most cases, we don’t start drafting the requests until they are picked up by someone. Obviously we don’t want to waste staff time. But even when we do draft something and the legislator loses, the vast majority get picked up by other legislators who support the idea.
How many pieces of legislation does the counsel bureau draft each session?
We’re directed to have 1,000 done by the beginning of session and we usually get close.
Beyond that, another 400-500 will be requested during session. A better measure we use is how many pages of (Nevada Revised Statutes) are drafted. The number of bills requested has been pretty stable for several sessions but the length of those bills has grown longer and they’re more complex.
Because of that, we’re changing the format a bit this year and trying to provide more of a synopsis of what the bill does on each measure. It’ll hopefully say existing law does such and such and here’s what this changes. We hope that will help more people understand what a piece of legislation does.