Archive for Saturday, January 14, 1995

OFFICE HAS ITS SAY IN EVERY LAW

January 14, 1995

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— Legislators don't write laws. Fourteen lawyers do.

The governor and state legislators may be busy in the next few months recommending changes in Kansas statutes -- like proposed business-related tax cuts to spur the economy -- but our elected officials actually have very little to do with writing the laws of the land.

That job, beginning with the words "Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas," is handled by a team of legal specialists in the third-floor statehouse office of the Revisor of Statutes.

The revisors -- 14 lawyers supported by proofreaders and clerks -- are intimate with the law. They know, for example, that a "person" in the case of one House bill introduced this week "means and includes a natural person, a partnership, an organization, a corporation, a municipality and any department or agency of the state."

The revisors follow their own special rules. Street names aren't capitalized in state laws, which avoid references to "he" or "she." Since 1980, the revisors have tried to write gender-neutral laws for Kansas.

Before anybody votes on Gov. Bill Graves' budget plan for 1996, which he discussed in his State of the State address Wednesday night, the revisors will turn it into legislation that eventually will be introduced in the Kansas House and Senate.

"It is meticulous," said Norman Furse, a lawyer who has worked in the law-writing office since 1969. "We have to be as precise as you can be with the English language in writing legal documents."

A joint House-Senate committee appointed Furse revisor of the statutes in 1988. He is, in one sense, the head lawmaker in Kansas.

But he also is intensely nonpartisan.

"We're trained not to be involved," Furse said. "It's somebody else's idea and concept, and I'm trying to place it in the proper legal context of other Kansas statutes and to produce a readable document. By looking at it that way, you don't feel a kinship with it because you know it's not your idea."

Members of the Kansas House and Senate together already have proposed more than 50 bills, with more ideas rolling into the revisor's office every day.

During the legislative session, which will stretch into April, the revisors will take work home at night and on the weekends to keep up with the flood of proposals they must turn into legal documents.

By the time the 1995 legislative session ends, Furse said, he expects that lawmakers will have introduced about 1,000 bills plus more than 100 resolutions, all of which must first be put into prose by revisors.

"You never really know what's going to fizzle and what isn't," Furse said. "Some things that fizzle in one house may get attached to something in the other house."

And some simply will fade away after many hours of careful labor by a revisor.

Part of the job of the revisors is to figure out which laws are affected by proposed legislation and which cross-references need to be updated after a bill is signed into law. After the legislative session ends in April, the revisor's office will publish bound volumes of the Kansas statutes, used by lawyers and judges to figure out what's legal and what isn't.

Sometimes, of course, someone will say the distinction isn't clear enough, and a bill will be challenged in court as vague or meaning something other than what legislators intended.

"However hard you try, the English language is very fertile ground for interpretation," Furse said. "What we hope for is that we're very accurate."

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