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Guidance on Crafting Amendments

Introduction

An amendment is a formal change in the language ("language" includes all words, punctuation, and numbers) of a bill made by vote in a subcommittee, division, committee, or on the House or Senate floor.

As a party interested in legislation, you may want to suggest amendments to legislators during a bill’s process. If a legislator agrees to propose changes, they must be in a form other legislators and staff can understand.

The following provides guidance to citizens, private sector lobbyists, and public employees on the most important things about arranging an amendment that is in a form members and legislative staff can work with in committee. By following the advice given here, you increase the chances of providing a legislator who is considering an amendment with a precise understanding of exactly what the amendment proposes to do.

Only legislators can offer amendments, and legislative staff work on amendments only at the request of, or with the permission of, a legislator.

In almost all cases, amendments eventually should be processed by legislative staff with expertise in legislative drafting, even if initially drafted by someone else. Some legislative committees occasionally deal with amendments prepared by citizens, lobbyists, or executive agency staffers, but committees prefer that legislative staff review and put amendments in proper form. With the exception of small oral amendments offered by legislators, all amendments offered on the House or Senate floor must be prepared by legislative staff.

Amendments take one of two forms: a "page-and-line" amendment identifies specific changes to a bill by referencing bill page and line numbers (the pages of a bill and the lines on each page are numbered); and a “delete-all” amendment replaces the entire contents of a bill with new language. Page-and-line amendments are typically used for smaller or limited proposed changes, whereas a delete-all amendment is used when the changes are more expansive or represent a more fundamental shift in the bill’s policy approach.

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Relying on Legislative Staff

If a legislator is working with you on an amendment, use the services of professional drafters. When a legislator wants to offer an amendment, it is better for you, other members, and staff if the amendment is drafted correctly from the beginning. With the permission of a legislator, take the concept or any specific language you have to the Revisor of Statutes, the House Research Department, or Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis. Individuals in these offices are trained to express legislative intent in statutory language and to use correct amendment form. They may ask you questions to clarify the member's intent, but they will not change the substance requested by the legislator. Contact staff as soon as possible to allow maximum preparation time.

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Procedures in Creating an Amendment Draft

There are various ways of presenting your amendment ideas to a legislator or to legislative staff:

  • Tell the legislator or staffer the concept, and let the staff person prepare an amendment that implements the concept. Often, people advocating amendments discuss their amendment ideas only conceptually with legislators, with legislators then directing legislative staff to draft an amendment based on the requested concepts.
  • If you know precisely what you want to accomplish, you can: (1) try your own version of an amendment draft (using the principles discussed on proper amendment form below); or (2) make electronic or handwritten changes to a document that you wish to amend, with the material you would like to have stricken and the new language you would like to add.

If your proposed amendment would add new blocks of text to the bill, it is helpful to send legislative staff an electronic version of the proposed new text. If this is sent in a standard word-processing format, it is easy for legislative staff to copy the text into the final amendment.

If your proposed amendment is suggesting changes to statutory sections that are not yet in the bill, it is fine to give legislative staff a paper or electronic copy of the statutory sections, with the proposed changes marked in strike /underline format. This can be done in any standard word-processing format or in handwriting.

Please do NOT give legislative staff, as the basis for drafting a proposed amendment, a new version of the bill that shows how the bill will look if your amendment is adopted. When a legislative staffer is presented with such a document, it is very difficult and time-consuming for the staff person to work backward to figure out what changes are being proposed to the current document in order to get to the new one.

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Final Amendment Version

Be aware that an amendment always reflects the wishes of the legislator who offers it, and that changes in a amendment you submitted may reflect either technical suggestions from staff or substantive changes made by the legislator offering the amendment.

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If You Try Your Own Draft Version – Proper Amendment Form

Although legislative staff put amendments in proper form for consideration by committees or on the House or Senate floor, it can be helpful for citizens, lobbyists, and agency staff to be able to express their amendment ideas using the standard legislative drafting conventions. Doing so may assist legislators and legislative staff in understanding the idea being proposed and may speed processing of the draft amendment.

The most important technical rules are listed below. These rules ensure that the intent of the member offering the amendment can be understood, both by the legislator and by staff preparing the final amendment. For a complete discussion of amendment drafting see Minnesota Revisor's Manual, chapter 4. The manual also covers good writing style and how to communicate intent precisely (topics not covered by here).

1) Reference the Correct Document

First, you must know the bill being amended and the version the committee is working on. The bill being amended will have a name, either "House File" (always written "H.F.") or "Senate File" (always written "S.F."), and a number. An example is "H.F. 1." By the time you want to suggest an amendment, the originally introduced bill may already have been replaced by an engrossment that includes amendments adopted in a previous committee. If you prepare an amendment that references an obsolete version of the bill, your changes may not fit the current version. To find out the current version, check the bill status system on the legislative website, or ask the legislator you are working with, the committee administrator for the committee hearing the bill, or House Research or Senate Counsel staff for the committee.

In any event, be aware of what specific document you are trying to change, so you can reference the correct page and line numbers in the document that will be considered by the committee or on the House or Senate floor.

2) Make Changes in the Right Order

It is also necessary to identify locations in the bill where the amendment should be placed. List all changes in numerical order by page and in numerical order by lines within a page. For example, amendments to page 2 come before amendments to page 7. Within a page, amendments to line 5 precede amendments to line 9.

If an amendment will amend whole sections or subdivisions of Minnesota Statutes that are not already in the bill, list those new subdivisions or sections in the amendment in numerical order (e.g., amend section 253B.06, subdivision 3; 253B.06, subdivision 5; 257.01; and 259.101 in that order.).

3) Use the Proper Amending Operations

Showing Additions and Removals

You should know how bills in the Minnesota Legislature show proposed changes in current law. Existing law is printed in a plain font, as it appears in the statutes. Language proposed to be added to current law is underlined. Language proposed for removal from current law is shown with strike marks through it:

"The supreme court consists of a chief justice and six eight associate justices."

Amendment Instructions

Each instruction in an amendment can make one of four kinds of changes in a bill. These directions at the beginning of an amendment tell how to change the document being amended:

  • strike: remove words, numbers, or punctuation from existing law
  • delete: remove proposed new (underlined) words, numbers, or punctuation that appear in the document being amended
  • reinstate: restore words, numbers, or punctuation in current law that are shown as stricken in the document being amended
  • insert: add new words, numbers, or punctuation to the document being amended

Using the above terms–not synonyms for any of them–helps ensure that legislative staff working on your amendment will correctly understand your intent. But legislative staff will use right terms in the final amendment draft, even if you do not.

Strike and delete. To take language out of a bill, reference the page and line where it appears and quote the language to be removed. If the language is underlined, underline when quoting it in order to ensure that the intent is achieved. This is especially true if you cannot remember the difference between "strike" and "delete."

Examples:

Page 5, line 11, strike "30 days"
Page 5, line 11, delete "30 days"

Each of these examples would result in removing different words if the same line of a bill contains the phrase "30 days" in existing law and a new reference to "30 days" added by the bill being amended. You want to be sure the right words are taken out.

To remove a whole section, a line (lines), or a page (pages), from a bill, you do not need to quote all the affected language. The following would be easier and correct:

Page 3, delete section 5
Page 6, delete lines 12 to 30

Reinstate. There are two ways to put back language in current law that a bill proposes to remove:

Page 4, line 12, reinstate "not"
  or
Page 4, line 12, reinstate the stricken "not"

Insert. Usually an amendment directs placing an insertion in relation to the word or punctuation it would follow. Sometimes it may be clearer or shorter to direct the insertion in relation to what it would precede. This choice is equally correct.

Page 9, line 22, after "more" insert "or less"
  or
Page 9, line 22, before the period, insert "or less"

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July 2012

House Research Department  ♦  600 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN  55155  ♦  House.Research@house.mn  ♦  651-296-6753