No “Orphan Language” Allowed In Proposed Legislation

Accountability and transparency in the legislative process both require that the public know not only how individual legislators voted on a particular bill, but also which legislator(s) sponsored the bill and any amendments thereto. Unfortunately, a significant obstacle to accountability and transparency in the legislative process is “orphan language”–the persistent appearance of critical language in proposed bills for which no public official takes responsibility.

In Connecticut, all legislation is drafted and processed through the Legislative Commissioners’ Office (LCO), which supports members of the General Assembly by, among other things, drafting proposed legislation for them. Although individual legislators often sponsor bills, and thus take personal responsibility for the language the LCO drafts on their behalf, the Joint Rules of the Senate and House (see Rule 7(f)) do not require individual sponsorship of bills. In fact, many bills are considered by a committee and/or the entire General Assembly without any formal sponsorship.

Although one would imagine that the chairs of a committee from which a bill originates would know exactly who drafted the bill and who requested the inclusion of particular language in a bill, that is not always the case. Too often they and their colleagues claim ignorance. (Click here for a recent example of this problem.) Critical language apparently just appears in a bill, as if by magic, leaving the public to speculate as to the identity of the executive or legislative branch officials, or other persons or special interests, that want the language to become law, but don’t want the public to know the truth about their involvement.

The solution to this problem is simple, although it would undoubtedly face political obstacles: the General Assembly should amend its rules to require the traceability of all text in all bills and amendments to specific elected officials. One or more elected officials must take responsibility for all text that appears in a bill or an amendment, and the identity of those officials must be reflected in the caption of bill. In the case of a committee, the committee chairs should be listed as the sponsors. In short, all text in any type of bill must have one or more identified parents. No orphaned language allowed.

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