Law Making in the US - why like that?

I am not American, but have a passing knowledge of how laws are made in the US.

I am a New Zealander, and also have a passing knowledge of how laws are made there.

Let’s see if we can get some knowledgeable commentary on this.

When a law is made in New Zealand, the Bill has a title, and a statpreamble - which sets out what the bill hopes to achieve (in layman’s terms)
The statute (if it is ever enacted) will then be interpeted in line with the title and preamble - with the specific provisions providing clarification.

I am not sure if it is a “constitutional”* requirement or just custom#, but a bill will only deal with ONE subject - which will relate to its title.

This means, for example, that if a bill is introduced to make it illegal to spank children, it will not contain ANY reference to defence appropriations, speed limits or anything else not related to “spanking children”

A bill may modify other acts, but only to achieve the aims of that specific bill. Eg: Maybe a “anti discrimination” law is introduced, this may well modify sections of the labour law as the labour law relates to discrimination.

Now, in the US, I constantly read about how defence appropriations are inserted into education bills. Or how “pork” is inserted into the Health Care bill.

So to frame the debate:

  1. Why is this allowed?
  2. How would it change US lawmaking if a bill was “restricted” to a single topic?
  3. What (if any) constitutional / law / procedural changes would be required to make this a reality?

perhaps someone knowledgeable could clarify this?

  • We don’t have a constitution, but I use the term in a conceptual rather than factual framework as the concept is correct.

Compromise. We gotta give the folks from Wyoming some reason to vote in favor of the bill.

I imagine it’d make it a lot more difficult to pass some laws. For example, Wyoming might not care a whole lot about a bill that will mainly assist populous areas. Likewise, some populous areas might not care about a bill that will assist Wyoming. So you’d have to find some other way to entice people to vote for bills they might not otherwise care about.

A Constitutional Amendment. Which must first pass through Congress and then be ratified by 3/5ths of the states.

perhaps someone knowledgeable could clarify this?

  • We don’t have a constitution, but I use the term in a conceptual rather than factual framework as the concept is correct.

My response is:

  1. It’s allowed because policing it is near impossible. Categorizing the substances of bills like that strikes me as something that would be extremely subjective.

  2. It’s allowed because it’s necessary for a democracy. Any large modern democracy is reliant on coalition of interests, and oftentimes the ebb and flow of those political coalitions depends on multiple, unrelated laws to be approved of as a package deal.

  3. It’s allowed because it creates the flexibility needed for good policy. Changing the law, or an appropriation, in one area oftentimes have far-reaching consequences. A defense bill that affects the level of education benefits for soldiers may, for example, affect a university’s level of federal funding. We want lawmakers to have the ability to address those consequences.

Well yeah, that’s the obvious and straightforward answer.

But can we go a bit “deeper” than that?

  1. Are there really laws that are so specific as to have no affect on the whole population? Like healthcare for example? Why the need to “bribe” on such an issue. And if the representative from Wyoming really needs a “reason” to support the bill, couldn’t this be done via some form of Quid Pro Quo (i.e Wyoming supports a New York bill, in return for support from New York on something else)

  2. If that’s the case how does New Zealand get on? A new law on say, drink driving, is going to affect different provinces differently - but they still get it done - why not the US?

Hmmm…if they “don’t care” how about not voting? Then just a simple majority of all votes cast?
Or isn’t this supposed to be the basis of Parliament / Senate - that people get “convinced” of the merits of a bill, and how it is better for the country, while looking after the interests of their own state / province / electorate? (or am I just a Pollyanna?)

Again, I am not knowledgable enough to debate the point, or how it is framed in New Zealand - but they do just this, each bill does have a “single” purpose. I have never heard of a problem before in the purpose being wrong or hotly debated.

So New Zealand (and Australia for that matter) are not democracies?

This yes - this is what I say, in the New Zealand case, the new law may affect existing related laws in exactly the fashion that you mention. But the relationship is clear and obvious.
Education benefits for GIs >>>>> University funding is a clear relationship
Health Care >>>>>>>> funding for clean energy projects is not a clear relationship*

  • Is this really what happens, or is the stuff that I read here just overblown?

I’m looking up New Zealand’s process to give your comment a more thorough response, but my immediate reaction is to turn on cable tv (if you are in the U.S.). The world is ending, apparently, because the Democrats are considering using a procedure that would adopt two bills through one vote. This country, unfortunately, is different; we freak out over anything. I have no faith that any such rule (as I currently understand it) can be enforced in Washington without it being a tremendous headache.

I did a casual search to see what I could find of the process - but the stuff I found was too general to be useful. There is the whole select committee process and then votes and stuff, which is similiar to the US - why I couldn’t find was something that “restricts” a bill to a single purpose (I am hoping somebody familiar with NZ lawmaking to this degree can comment)

And yes - I was motivated to ask this question because of the healthcare bill…

But “clear and obvious” is in the eye of the beholder. I think a colorable argument can be made that there is a connection between clean energy and health care, for example. Others might/will such an argument ridiculous. I can see why a political system will want to avoid making that an actual issue.

Also, and my Legislation professor will kill me for not mentioning this earlier, the House has a general “germaneness” rule, which prohibits amendments that are deemed by the chair to be not germane, or relevant, to the bill being considered. The Senate doesn’t have such a rule. And in the House, that rule applies only to amendments, so provisions already in the bill once it reaches the floor are not subject to that test. So there already is some element of the single subject principle in the U.S. Congress.

Basically everything that is fucked up in the US system is a result of trying to accommodate the southern states that were afraid that a straight majority system would lead to the end of slavery.

It is done in pretty much every other country, and the only reason I’m inserting the qualifier is that there may be another one where bills are as complex as in the US. In Spain,

  1. Lawmakers read the bills proposed by other lawmakers. If the bill doesn’t fit the requirements, not only does it get turned back, but whomever proposed it gets the polite equivalent of tarred and feathered. Lawyers and the judiciary act as a second layer of protection: there was a law several years ago which did not explicitly detail how it affected one of the laws related to it, and not only did it get corrected in the next BOE (the “journal” where Spanish laws are published), Parliament and the parties had to apologize for their carelessness.

  2. I promise he’s dead. Serious. He’s got this damn huge grave near Madrid, too…

  3. See 1.

IMO here, but it seems to me the problem is you can’t formally define “a single topic.” And since laws are formal entities by nature, you can’t formulate a strict “single topic” rule about laws. What makes a law about a “single topic” or not is going to be hashed out through practice, and can’t be decided on beforehand in some theoretical manner.

Defense appropriations have nothing to do with child discipline you say? But without the right kind of discipline, our nation’s children won’t be prepared to defend the country in the best way possible when they become adults. Moreover, unless we defend our country now, our children’s discipline is moot since it’s all the same whether the enemy takes over a nation full of well behaved children or a nation full of delinquents.

Those are ridiculous arguments in many ways, but the people in power get to make whatever argument they want. And after a while, it becomes clear to everyone that arguments don’t matter in this case, and you’ll get a system like that of the US in which people don’t even bother to make the argument. (Not that I’m claiming they ever did in our legal system–for all I know we just skipped the rational part of the process altogether.)

You guys in New Zealand are playing nice about this, apparently. But as soon as you get a party in power which is willing to not play nice about it, then if they’ve got the votes to do it, they’ll be able to push through a bill that you and I would consider non-single-topic but which they’ll be able to “argue” post hoc really is about a single topic.

From that first perhaps subtle instance, more blatant instances are sure to follow.

I’ve got a couple of years of law school under my belt and the system in Australia works the same as Bengangmo describes it in NZ- bills can generally only deal with one issue at a time, although occasionally you’ll get an “And Other Matters” addendum on a “General” Bill (Say, the *Land Maintenance And Other Matters Bill * used to “tidy up” minor things in related legislation).

What you won’t see is a section at the end of the anti-smacking legislation approving the establishment of a new National Park or altering the tarriffs on luxury car imports or constructing a bridge to nowhere or anything like that.

I’m pretty sure the “One subject per bill” is covered under the various Acts Interpretation Acts which also specify things like how Acts are to be read as a whole and words therein given their ordinary meanings unless specified otherwise etc.

This is ridiculous. Of course you can’t strictly formulate what “single topic” means, but anybody with a functioning brain can recognise that funding for bridges is absolutely unrelated in most cases to bills on policy regarding homosexuals in the military.

Similarly, having irrelevant riders on bills simply isn’t necessary for the functioning of a democracy. How do we know? Because virtually every Westminster-style democracy in existence holds the tradition that bills should be on one topic only. Unless you hold the rather stupid position that Westminster-style parliamentary systems are incapable of generating good policy, or the exceptionalist view that only the USA counts as a “large democracy” (of course, you then have to come up with a reason why a democracy of 60 million people isn’t large, but one of 300 million is), then the reasons stated are clearly in contravention of the evidence at hand.

It isn’t just New Zealand; it’s every Westminster-style democracy. Parliament in the UK has been making law for centuries, yet hasn’t devolved into the farcical state that the US Congress has.

We are so numb that we allow the rules to be changed for our President to get his Obama Care passed in any way he can. Once they break the rules and they can push any bills through the house we lose our freedom. I am waiting and watching in disbelief. Even CNN is speaking out. I say one bill one vote for the safety of the process.

If you are not freaking out, you should be. This is freedom on the line. No ‘President’ should have the power to pass a bill without the people wanting it or it is nothing but Socialism coming. Once this precedence is set it opens the door for the Gov to put whatever else it wants for us in place.

The answer is less complex than you’d think. We don’t really have any tradition of party loyalty here, although there’s naturally a strong correlation between the votes of individual legislators and their parties’ views, for the most part.

That means that without the open quid pro quo you describe, nothing would be passed.

Although the US is technically one big country, in many ways it’s nothing more than a coalition of warring fiefdoms, with vast swathes of policy matters handled by individual states.

A little light reading for you. Hint: no rule would be changed, and the Republicans use this trick a lot more often than the Democrats.

You know, there’s nothing wrong with an obvious and straight forward answer when you’re the first person replying to the OP. Such answers are a great way to get the ball rolling. You could have just skipped complaining that my answer wasn’t deep enough and just picked up the ball to continue the discourse.

There are some laws which will have a disproportionate affect on certain segments of the population. Said segments of the population might be urban, rural, or even divided by race or income. Health care is a pretty huge bill that will no doubt impact almost everybody in some way. As for your example, I suppose it could work out that way.

The United States is not New Zealand. Your government is completely different from the U.S. government and is not designed to function in the way ours is. You have a tiny population and not a whole lot of land. What works for New Zealand might not work for the United States.

They still pay federal taxes. What I mean by “don’t care” is that it’s a bill that doesn’t really do anything for people in Wyoming.

Yet the UK has a relatively large population and Australia and Canada have huge swathes of land, whilst both using effectively the same governmental system as New Zealand.

Main reason? Congress would have to go on a pork-free diet and pigs like their pork.

Thanks, I didn’t know that they both played this game.

It’s the fact that in a parliamentary system like NZ and Australia you have party discipline. The US Congress is effectively 600 individual legislators. There is no party whip, there’s no linkage between executive/legislative branches and each member of congress is effectively an independent actor that runs on a personal platform that only broadly corresponds to their affiliated party.