The digital transformation of legislative drafting, while promising, also presents a host of challenges. These span from technical complexities, such as the transition from traditional paper-based systems to digital platforms, particularly XML-based systems, to ensuring accuracy, consistency, and legal compliance in the automated drafting process. Also, the integration of new and emerging technologies requires careful selection and adaptation to meet the unique demands of legislative drafting.
Simultaneously, data security and integrity need to be thoroughly maintained to protect the sensitive nature of legislative documents. Moreover, collaboration among drafters, often across different jurisdictions, must be facilitated in this new digital environment. The challenge of managing these various factors necessitates a comprehensive and strategic approach to the digital transformation process.
The landscape of legislative processes is being transformed by technological advancements, with the U.S. House of Representatives at the forefront of these changes. One notable initiative is the development of an innovative software suite, known as the Comparative Print Suite. Born from the mandate of Section 502, ratified on 10th March 2020, this project aims to streamline and enhance the way legislative documents are analysed and compared. This project was developed in partnership between the U.S. House of Representatives and Xcential Legislative Technologies.
In the context of this project, three specific types of comparative analyses have been identified, each with unique applications. The first facilitates a comparison between two iterations of a bill, resolution, or amendment, thus enabling users to pinpoint alterations in document versions accurately. This feature could considerably enhance the tracking and understanding of the development of legislative documents.
The second type of comparative analysis provides an in-depth examination of proposed changes to existing law, whether codified or non-codified. By comparing current laws with proposed amendments contained within new legislative documents, users are afforded a deeper understanding of potential impacts and implications of the proposed changes.
The third analysis, known as amendment impact, involves comparing a bill or resolution with its proposed modifications. This functionality will significantly improve the transparency and scrutiny of amendment processes, offering clarity on how modifications could shape the initial proposals.
Continual engagement with stakeholders and end-users forms a critical part of the development process of this project. Both the Clerk of the House and the Legislative Counsel have been actively fostering dialogue and feedback channels through individual conversations, status update meetings, and system demonstrations.
“Just used the program. I had prepared the [changes to existing law comparative print] by hand last night— took me about 45 minutes. The program did it in 10 seconds—a great improvement.” – House Committee counsel using the system for the first time. (1)
According to an interview with NextGov, Rep. Derek Kilmer, Former Chairperson from the U.S. House of Representatives underscored the potential of the “Comparative Print Suite,” explaining that it’s a tool designed to refine legislative operations. This platform empowers members and their staff “to see how a bill would impact current law, as well as to see how different versions of bills compare, which is currently a really painstaking and far less transparent process.” The existing approach, he emphasised, is considerably labour-intensive and deficient in openness.(2)
The Comparative Print Suite presents a groundbreaking move towards leveraging technology to enhance legislative processes. By offering precise, efficient, and versatile tools for analysing legislative documents, the project has potential to transform the way laws are drafted, debated, and amended. This case study illustrates the immense potential of integrating technology in legislative processes and sets a valuable precedent for similar initiatives in the future.
The Comparative Print System is an innovative tool devised for contextualising legislative alterations.
1) The system has the capability to vividly illustrate potential modifications a bill could introduce to existing legislation.
2) It further extends its usefulness by enabling a comparative analysis between two distinct renditions of a legislative proposal, highlighting the disparities between them.
3) Additionally, it provides a unique lens to scrutinise proposed amendments, exhibiting precisely how these amendments could potentially modify the original draft of a bill.
In the intricately networked space of legislation, the Comparative Print Suite plays an instrumental role in showcasing how legislative transformations come into play. At the crux of the Comparative Print Suite is the Toolbox View, an interface that orchestrates the system’s functionality and accessibility for the user.
The Toolbox View offers its users an intuitive and guided tour of the system. When a user logs into the system, they are welcomed by the “New Report Page”. This page presents a selection of options from a drop-down menu, a central one being the “How a Bill Changes Current Law”.
This option provides an avenue to explore the impact of a prospective bill on the existing statute. The user can delve into this by selecting a pre-loaded bill from the system or by uploading a bill of their own in either PDF or XML format. Following the selection, the “submit” button triggers the creation of a Comparative Print Suite.
Once the report is crafted, the Toolbox View is where the results come alive. It does so through a series of tabs, each offering a distinct perspective on the legislation under review. This includes interaction with the original bill (uploaded or chosen from the system), individual legislative provisions located within the bill, and amendments to the current law (whether codified or non-codified). Furthermore, the Comparative Print Suite is also available for viewing in PDF format.
In order to understand the scope of information accessible through the Toolbox View, consider the following illustration with a focus on H.R. 6901, a bill from the 115th Congress. The Toolbox View comprises several elements:
Each of these elements provides distinct yet interconnected pieces of information, offering an in-depth understanding of how a particular bill or amendment might influence the current legislation. This interplay of detailed scrutiny and accessible presentation is what makes the Comparative Print Suite, and more specifically the Toolbox View, an indispensable tool in legislative analysis.
Within the architecture of the Comparative Print Suite, the “Bill PDF” tab is a cardinal feature. Residing on the far left of the Toolbox View interface, this tab is the inaugural stop for users embarking on legislative exploration. It manifests the original bill, either pre-loaded or uploaded by the user, serving as a pivotal reference point throughout the analytical process.
This fundamental role of the “Bill PDF” tab underlines its integrative nature, drawing a link between the original legislative document and the subsequent comparative analysis undertaken within the system. It is this interplay that serves to heighten the user’s understanding of legislative transformations.
However, the functionality of the “Bill PDF” tab extends beyond merely presenting the original bill. This feature also equips users with a suite of tools for in-depth interaction with the document. This capability enables users to search, navigate, zoom, print, or download the bill, providing a comprehensive, user-friendly experience.
The “Bill PDF” tab, therefore, is more than just a display feature; it is an enabler of the legislative analysis process. By interacting with the original bill in a dynamic, user-directed manner, it aids in a more nuanced understanding of how proposed legislation interacts with existing law, thereby rendering the Comparative Print Suite an invaluable tool in the legislative process.
In the scheme of the Comparative Print Suite, the “Interactive Outline” tab holds a significant position. This dynamic feature offers a multi-faceted view of the comparative report, extending the user’s interaction with the system beyond the initial presentation of the original bill found in the “Bill PDF” tab.
Crucially, the “Interactive Outline” tab has been designed to facilitate a richer understanding of legislative documents. It provides the user with a structured yet flexible way to review the legislative provisions contained within a bill and gain a comprehensive understanding of how these interact with the current law.
The distinctive characteristic of the “Interactive Outline” tab is its adaptability to the type of comparison being generated. For instance, when engaging with a “How a Bill Changes Current Law” comparison, this tab is labelled “View Sections Affected (Outline)”. On the other hand, when exploring a “Bill to Bill Differences” report, the tab is labelled “View Comparison (Outline)”. This labelling shift underscores the tab’s role in tailoring the user experience to the task at hand, thereby aiding the user in navigating the complexities of the legislative documents.
Consequently, the “Interactive Outline” tab acts as a key facilitator in the legislative analysis process, enabling users to delve into legislative texts in a guided yet exploratory manner. This functionality underscores the Comparative Print Suite’s broader purpose: to enhance understanding and scrutiny of legislative changes, bridging the gap between the inception of a bill and its potential impacts on existing law.
The “Outline Panel” essentially acts as a dynamic roadmap to the report, mirroring the function of a table of contents, thus enabling a user to navigate the comparative report with enhanced ease and efficiency.
In the context of a “How a Bill Changes Current Law” comparison, the Outline Panel presents an ordered list of laws being amended, arranged according to their first appearance within the bill. This implies that the first law being modified appears at the top of the list, succeeded by the second law being amended, and so forth. This panel effectively collates all the amendments impacting a specific law and arranges them in the sequence they would be implemented, disregarding the order of their presentation within the bill.
On the other hand, when a “Bill to Bill Differences” comparison is engaged, the Outline Panel delineates an outline of the revised or new version of the bill. In both scenarios, the most granular level of the legislative hierarchy displays the change. For example, within the context of a “How a Bill Changes Current Law” analysis for H.R. 6901 RH (115th Congress), the panel lists the five affected laws, such as Titles 44, 5, 31, and 40 of the United States Code, and section 207 of the E-Government Act.
Within the application, users can engage the chevron icon to delve deeper into each law, unearthing the specific provision that the amendment in the bill impacts. This functionality is mirrored in the “Bill to Bill Differences” scenario, albeit the hierarchy represented is that of the new bill. The deepest level of this hierarchy highlights the precise points of alteration between the two bills.
Consequently, the Outline Panel enhances the Comparative Print Suite’s utility by providing a structured yet dynamic pathway through legislative documents. This function enriches users’ understanding of the legislation under scrutiny, further facilitating the legislative analysis process.
The Comparative Print Suite’s system features two powerful tools designed to improve the comprehension and navigation of legislative documents: The Interactive Outline Tab and The Outline Panel. These features, while interconnected, each offer unique functionalities that greatly enhance the user experience in analyzing and dissecting legislative texts. In the following section, we delve into a comparative analysis of the Interactive Outline Tab and the Outline Panel, elucidating their individual characteristics, functionalities, and their combined role in facilitating efficient and comprehensive legislative review.
Interactive Outline Tab
Both the Outline Panel and the Interactive Outline Tab provide valuable tools to navigate and comprehend legislative changes. While the former offers a structured hierarchy and easy navigation of amendments, the latter provides a dynamic exploration of the report. Their combined use enables a comprehensive understanding of legislative provisions and alterations.
The Comparative Print Suite is enriched by the addition of an “Automated Notifications” feature, which provides vital alerts during the drafting and review stages of a legislative bill. This functionality is accessible within the left panel of the “Interactive Outline”, positioned below the “Outline Panel”.
“Automated Notifications” predominantly serves to inform users about amendments that the system could not automatically implement. This feature performs an essential quality assurance role, proving particularly useful when drafting or contemplating the reintroduction of legislative bills. A crucial aspect of its functionality involves identifying amendments within a proposed bill that could not be executed automatically for a variety of reasons. These include drafting errors such as typos, misspellings, or incorrect citations, faults in the current law dataset like outdated or missing data, and system errors where the system does not support a specific amendment instruction. In some cases, an amendment proposal might be redundant as it has already been enacted into the current law.
The principal aim of this feature is to provide sufficient information to enable users to investigate independently why a specific amendment failed to execute automatically. Indeed, there could be scenarios where an amendment might not be implemented automatically but could still be executed manually. As the system’s current law repository improves, the frequency of automated notifications is expected to decrease.
Below is a brief outline of five possible automated notifications that a user might encounter:
Ultimately, the “Automated Notifications” feature not only improves the quality of legislative drafting and review processes but also ensures a robust, user-friendly experience in the Comparative Print Suite.
A key component of the Comparative Print Suite is the “Amendatory Instructions Panel”, particularly under the “How a Bill Changes Current Law” section. Nestled at the top right corner of the “Outline Tab”, this panel exhibits the amendment embedded within the proposed bill alongside the associated amendatory instructions.
An example of this feature’s application can be seen when looking at the proposal to redesignate paragraphs (2) to (8) in Section 3601 of Title 44 of the U.S. Code, as contained within subparagraph (B) of Section 2 (a)(1) of a bill. The “Amendatory Instructions Panel” prominently displays an ordinal list that corresponds with the amendatory phrase housed within the proposed bill, listed in the order they occur within the bill.
Users have several avenues to examine the amendments present in the bill or the existing law it seeks to amend:
These three methods of navigation are designed to enhance the user’s comprehension of how the amendments included in the bill influence the existing law. This multi-faceted approach to legislative analysis enhances the user experience and ensures a comprehensive understanding of legislative modifications.
The “Amendatory Instructions Panel” thus significantly contributes to the functionality of the Comparative Print Suite, aiding users in their navigation and understanding of complex legislative changes.
To summarize, the potential benefits of this tool are numerous, facilitating:
Situated in the lower right section of the “Outline Tab” within the Toolbox View, the “Dynamic Report View” functions as the comparative print. In the context of “Changes in Existing Law,” it presents the text of the laws sequentially, with specific styling to denote inserted or stricken text. Its design takes cues from the existing Ramseyer report, which is required to be included in all committee reports accompanying bills and resolutions reported to the House (in accordance with clause 3 of Rule XIII of the House Rules).
The Dynamic Report View (isolated) for “Bill to Bill Differences” displays changes from the first bill in highlighted, underlined, and stricken text.
Depending on the number of amendments embedded within a bill, the resulting comparative print document can become quite extensive. Although it is technically possible to scroll through the document, a more user-friendly approach often involves utilising the links housed within the “Outline Panel” and the “Amendatory Instructions Panel” for navigation. Furthermore, the highlighted portions of text within the “Dynamic Report View” are interactive, allowing you to scroll the application to the corresponding change. A handy button situated in the bottom right corner of the “Dynamic Report View” provides a quick shortcut back to the top of the document.
When dealing with “Bill to Bill Differences,” the “Dynamic Report View” presents the new document (the second document selected or uploaded), accompanied by highlights denoting changes from the initial bill. Stricken text is showcased with a strikethrough and a red background, whereas inserted text is underlined with a yellow background. Entire blocks of text that have been inserted or stricken (for example, a whole section) are represented with a light green or red background, respectively.
The “Dynamic Report View” in the Comparative Print Suite offers several benefits to the user:
The “Dynamic Report View” is an essential tool within the Comparative Print Suite, providing an accessible and visually intuitive means of exploring and understanding the differences between legislative texts.
The “Report PDF Tab” is the final piece of the Toolbox View puzzle in our Comparative Print Suite. Acting as a dedicated portal, it offers a display of the Comparative Print Suite utilising an embedded PDF viewer.
This tab streamlines the user’s experience by enabling document searching, page navigation, zoom controls, and providing options to print or download the PDF. The presented illustrations offer glimpses into temporary versions of the eventual reports in PDF format.
The Toolbox View transcends a mere “paper on screen” comparative print, showcasing the potential of interactive, user-friendly legislative analysis. We are thrilled with the progress and eagerly anticipate feedback as users delve into this tool.
As part of the Comparative Print Suite, the “Report PDF Tab” ensures that users can conveniently interact with the Comparative Print Suite, ultimately enabling a deeper and more efficient exploration of legislative texts.
In the complex domain of legislative drafting, the role of amendments is of fundamental importance due to their capacity to profoundly reshape the intent and effects of a bill. In the context of this complexity, the Comparative Print Suite has prioritised the feature known as “How an Amendment Impacts the Bill.”
The development of this feature includes a significant technical operation: the migration of the pre-existing Amendment Impact Programme (AIP) from the HOLC servers to the Clerk servers. This migration represents a central facet of the integration of the AIP into the broader Comparative Print Suite’s front end.
With regards to visual representation, the amendments and the overarching comparative print are to follow the format of two distinct but related features within the Comparative Print Suite. These two features, known as “How Bill Changes Law” and “Bill to Bill Differences,” are important reference points for the design and functionality of the AIP.
The construction of the AIP, hence, constitutes an integral part of the Comparative Print Suite, facilitating a deeper understanding of how amendments reshape legislation. It represents a critical intersection of technological innovation and legislative study, underlining the importance of digital tools in contemporary legislative analysis. This pioneering work exemplifies the Comparative Print Suite’s commitment to enhancing the comprehensibility and accessibility of legislative processes.
So, this plays a pivotal role in enhancing the comprehensibility and accessibility of legislative drafting. It does so by illustrating how amendments can significantly modify a bill’s intent and effects. This feature’s development, which involves a complex technical process of integrating the pre-existing Amendment Impact Program into the Comparative Print Suite, signifies the crucial role of digital tools in modern legislative analysis. It embodies the Comparative Print Suite’s commitment to simplifying and illuminating the intricacies of legislative processes.
An emerging manifestation of the synergy between technology and legislation is the integration of a novel feature called the “Bill Viewer” into the Comparative Print Suite’s system. As a sophisticated reading tool, the Bill Viewer is engineered to enable users to upload or search a single bill document and visually dissect it utilising an interactive outline.
The necessity of the Bill Viewer arises from the fundamental requirement for a comprehensive understanding of entire bill proposals. Reviewing only the amendments to the current law within a bill or merely comparing different versions of a document does not suffice to capture the full essence of the underlying proposal. Of equal importance are the standalone provisions, which are often overlooked in traditional bill review processes. Hence, the Bill Viewer, coupled with the trio of comparative prints, seeks to furnish House Members and their staff with robust tools for scrutinising bills, resolutions, and amendments.
The functionality of the Bill Viewer extends beyond just viewing bills. The development team, in partnership with the stakeholders, contemplates incorporating smart-reading capabilities into this feature. The ultimate aim is to enable users to interact with the bill and discover salient items within the proposal. This might be conceptualised as an ‘intelligent find’ mechanism.
In this context, the Toolbox View emerges as a potentially invaluable feature. It permits defined terms, effective dates, and short titles to be listed in the interactive outline, offering a rapid overview of the bill’s contents. In a single click, users could navigate to the corresponding location in the bill. This innovative feature, therefore, constitutes a stride towards simplifying and refining the examination of legislative documents, thus enhancing the transparency and efficiency of legislative processes.
That said, the Bill Viewer’s functionality is expected to expand beyond just viewing bills, with future plans to incorporate smart-reading capabilities that will allow users to interact with the bill and highlight key items. In addition, the “Toolbox View” feature offers an efficient overview of a bill’s contents by listing defined terms, effective dates, and short titles in the interactive outline. These advancements aim to simplify legislative document examination, thereby improving transparency and efficiency.
The legislative landscape is undergoing a transformative shift with the conception of a centralised repository for current law and all amendable matters under the aegis of the Comparative Print Suite. This innovative initiative marks the first instance of the existence of a unified, up-to-date, electronic, machine-readable platform for such purposes. The task of rendering this repository comprehensive, robust, and adaptable indeed remains considerable.
Unlike some state legislatures and international parliaments that possess a unified code, the federal level does not benefit from such a structure. Federal legislation, when amending current law, draws from multiple sources. These include the positive titles of the U.S. Code, the Statutes at Large, and named Acts from the House Office of Legislative Counsel (HOLC) Statutes Compilations dataset. Presently, the “Changes in Existing Law” application elucidates changes to the U.S. Code, current Statute Compilations, and select Statutes at Large.
The current system’s technological foundations, augmented by expertise from the HOLC and others, facilitate the construction of a robust current law repository. This repository, in turn, promises to fulfil the House Rules requirements regarding comparative prints, effective date enactments into law, temporal challenges, and additional matters. Such a resource not only aims to entirely eliminate the need for automated notifications but also offers the potential to centralise all current law, thus enhancing accessibility for Members and staff.
The development team anticipates undertaking several key initiatives in the near future to optimise the HOLC Statutes Compilations dataset. First, they plan to analyse the present dataset and pinpoint any data gaps, duplicates, and anomalies. Second, they propose to continue the design of a contemporary repository for laws, potentially involving technical reorganisation. Subsequent to the analysis, the team will process the current data to rectify any identified errors.
Temporal modelling and version control, including the storage of distinct versions of the law like U.S. Code release points and Compilations updates, represent further pivotal elements of the project. Other core facets include tracking effective dates and enactment dates, persisting support for the Statute Compilations in the United States Legislative Markup (USLM) format, and building on the groundwork laid by the Government Publishing Office’s Statute Compilations in USLM project. The development of support for short titles in the current law database also figures prominently in the future agenda.
In essence, the establishment of a centralised Current Law Repository signifies an evolutionary leap in legislative processes, one that offers the promise of streamlining the understanding, interpretation, and amendment of law.
The successful operationalisation of a comprehensive application such as the Comparative Print Suite necessitates the establishment of clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This is particularly significant in complex projects that involve multiple stakeholders, each with its unique strengths and areas of expertise. Ensuring that the roles of all parties involved are clearly outlined forms a cornerstone of effective project management and system maintenance.
In analysing the functionalities of the Comparative Print Suite, we have navigated the intricacies of an ambitious endeavour to modernise legislative processes within the US House of Representatives. The technical expertise from the provider Xcential Legislative Technologies has been instrumental in this transformative journey.
The various innovative features of the system, while distinct in their operation, collectively work towards a singular and crucial goal: to harness the power of technology to augment the efficiency, transparency, and comprehensibility of legislative drafting and scrutiny.
The system’s tools, despite their diversity, exhibit a harmonious synergy, each contributing unique value in deconstructing the complexity of legislative documents. Their collective operation fosters a more holistic, interconnected understanding of legislative bills and resolutions, weaving together the strands of individual changes into a comprehensive narrative of legislative evolution.
The system does not merely reflect changes in legislation; it also empowers users to understand the reasons behind such changes, and the consequences thereof. It thus elevates the traditionally reactive task of legislative scrutiny into a more proactive, investigative, and ultimately enlightening experience.
In essence, the Comparative Print Suite represents a paradigm shift in the domain of legislative analysis. It symbolises the fusion of legal diligence with the capabilities of modern technology, striving to bring about a more informed and engaged democratic process. The initiative manifests a robust commitment to continual improvement, evolving alongside both legislative demands and technological advancements.
The system not only exhibits the profound potential of technology within legislative processes but also underscores a transformative vision for the future of legislative drafting in the US House of Representatives. As such, the Comparative Print Suite serves as a beacon, illustrating the transformative potential of technology within the realms of law and governance. As we continue to innovate and iterate, the prospects for deeper understanding and greater transparency in the legislative process seem boundless.
(1) Office of the Clerk – U.S. House of Representatives | Washington, DC | 20515-6601 | Oct 15 / 2020 | H-154 | The Capitol | https://cha.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/republicans-cha.house.gov/files/Clerk-QR1-ComparativePrint.pdf
(2) House Modernization Leaders Have High Hopes for Tech proposals, Even as Committee Disbands. Access at: <https://kilmer.house.gov/news/in-the-news/house-modernization-leaders-have-high-hopes-for-tech-proposals-even-as-committee-disbands>
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