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Title: From the Innocuous to the Evocative: How Bill Naming Manipulates and Informs the Policy Process
Author(s): Jones, Brian Christopher
Supervisor(s): Goodall, Kay
Keywords: short titles
Westminster Parliament
Scottish Parliament
US Congress
Issue Date: 10-Apr-2012
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis analyses the legal status and the importance of short titles in the legislative processes of the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, and the US Congress. Through a large quantitative survey of US short titles that spanned over 30 years and 18 Congresses, it was demonstrated that there has been a paradigm shift in the way the US Congress titles its bills, in which it transitioned from a largely descriptive, technical style to a wider range of styles, among which a more explicitly evocative style became both acceptable and frequently used. Such titles are permeating the legislative process and the US statute book with what I argue is overly political language, and are blurring the lines between proselytizing and what has historically been regarded as a formally descriptive (not political) element of legislative drafting. Conversely, save for a few choice titles, the Westminster Parliament and Scottish Parliament continue to employ mostly descriptive short titles, similar to the previously innocuous style of the US Congress. From a contemporary and historical perspective in all three jurisdictions, the short titles of bills have been viewed as relatively insignificant reference points for those engaged and/or interacting with legislation from a drafting, legislative process or larger legal or political perspective, and have subsequently received little attention in the academic community. By employing a comparative research approach primarily focused on a cross-disciplinary literature review and hypothesis testing through three empirical projects, this thesis draws upon both qualitative and quantitative methods of research to answer the primary research questions. The main empirical method used was a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with lawmakers, staffers, bill drafters, government officials and media members from all three jurisdictions. Although the legal status of short bill titles in each jurisdiction differed, many individuals from each jurisdiction viewed short bill titles as a considerably important part of the lawmaking process. Also, to varying degrees in each jurisdiction, interviewees repeatedly offered the opinion that short titles: may affect a bill’s chances of becoming law; are at times misleading; serve as more than referential points; at times may pressure legislators to vote for a bill; may be used as framing devices; and sometimes employ language that is not justified during the legislative process. These support the proposition that short titles have legislative process and political implications. The interviews support the legislative process analysis of the three jurisdictions that Chapter IV discusses, which is that the Scottish Parliament operates with the strictest regulations in regards to short title accuracy. In addition to being the only jurisdiction studied that openly endorses a ‘proper form’ in which bills must be drafted (which explicitly mentions short titles), many Scottish interviewees stated that such titles were important in the legislative process for different reasons than US and Westminster interviewees, stressing descriptive legal accuracy and taking care in regard to bill scope, among other concerns. The thesis’ quantitative survey portion includes separate surveys and sample populations from the US and Scotland. Though data collection was marred by an error in the US, thus hindering the analysis of such data, the Scottish results suggested that short bill titles may have psychological effects when analysing the favourability of proposals: all four evocative naming types produced higher favourability ratings than bland titles, and some results were statistically significant. However, the naming types were not statistically significant in assessing why the measure was supported or whether participants desired more information on bills. In response to the absence of short bill title standards in the US Congress and Westminster Parliament, and with the aim of describing how the Scottish Parliament standards might be made more thorough, the thesis provides short title recommendations that are suitable for all three jurisdictions. These recommendations largely accentuate proper form for language and processes in order to ensure short title accuracy, and have the potential, if applied consistently, to significantly reduce the chances of overtly political or evocative language entering the country’s legislative processes or statute books. While acknowledging that in all three institutions studied short bill titling may be in many respects a small aspect of the monumental and lengthy policy process, this thesis advances the proposition that it is considerably important to those who interact with and encounter legislation frequently, and that preventing evocative language from entering short bill titles is a benefit for the legislative processes of all three jurisdictions.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Law and Philosophy

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