How to Write a Legislative Proposal

By Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., - Updated May 31, 2017
National Capitol

Writing a successful legislative proposal requires brevity, passion and focus. As briefly and as plainly as possible, tell your legislator about the problem your proposal solves, how it solves it and the consequences of not acting on it.

How Proposals Originate

A legislative proposal may begin in Congress, but more likely it begins with a private citizen or an advocacy group seeing a need for legislation that improves a situation or solves a problem.

If you're the person inspired to write such a proposal, this means your primary goal isn't drafting a perfect bill for presentation to your city council, state legislature or Congress. Your goal, instead, is to write a proposal that may convince at least one legislator that your idea is a good one and should be drafted into law. Following formal legislative practices is less important than making a convincing argument and backing it up with evidence and facts whenever you can.

What Do You Want to Happen?

At the beginning of your process, think about what you want your proposal to accomplish. Be very clear about your goal. It always helps to see the idea in writing even though you may revise it many times before you submit your proposal. If you're having trouble getting what you want down to a focused sentence or at most two, you probably need to refine the idea further. Keep writing until you have a crystal clear sentence about what your proposal accomplishes.

Your Preamble: What's the Problem?

Once you have the goal clearly in mind, think about why that goal hasn't already been achieved. Usually, there are a few core obstacles standing in the way. State the existing obstacles in a few sentences in your first section, the preamble to the proposal. For instance:

"Our public utility doesn't give homeowners credit for solar power contributions to the grid that exceed their own residential usage. Three recent studies conclude that, despite power companies' frequent objections, power companies who have allowed customers to contribute unlimited amounts of energy back to the grid have eventually been able to lower residential energy rates without reducing net profits."

Note that the last sentence points to studies that overcome objections to your proposal. That's important, because every good idea has its detractors, so address these issues right at the beginning.

The Body of the Proposal

In your second section, the body of the proposal, define what you want to accomplish, and propose how you want it accomplished. Using the solar power example, you might begin:

"I propose enactment of legislation that will provide OLPC a five year moratorium on municipal taxes from that portion of its income derived from solar power and a residential property tax credit equal to 10 percent of all solar contributions to the OLPC grid over the same five year period."

An actual proposal might be longer and perhaps more detailed, but it's important to realize that what you're doing is selling something – your idea. In the above example, although it seems obvious that at some point the actual legislation will need to set forth a reliable method of determining how much of OLPC energy comes from solar power, that's not your job. Don't bog down your audience in details. Legislators know how to draft legislation and have staff to research and refine incoming proposals. They'll add the necessary details. You're providing the idea.

Wrapping it Up

Formal legislative proposals often have a final section called Enactment, in which the drafters provide a timeline for the bill to be voted on and to become law. Yours is an informal proposal, so you have no obligation to provide a timeline. Still, it doesn't hurt to offer a short concluding section that underlines the consequences of further delay in getting your proposal into law and the particular benefits of doing so quickly.

About the Author

I am a retired Registered Investment Advisor with 12 years experience as head of an investment management firm. I also have a Ph.D. in English and have written more than 4,000 articles for regional and national publications.

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