A Diamond Amongst the Dross

“Spot” bills, “placeholders” or “intent” bills are pieces of legislation that aren’t yet legislation. They await amendments that will convert them into “real” legislation. Their language is usually boilerplate and, nearly always, features the word, “intent,” since, properly, the bills don’t change law, they merely express a future desire to do so.

Illustrative of the drab Government-Speak employed by nearly all spot bills, is the second paragraph of the Legislative Counsel’s summary of the two-paragraph contents of AB 1193 by Assemblyman Philip Ting, a San Francisco Democrat:

“This bill would declare the Legislature’s intent to enact subsequent legislation that would authorize all city, county, regional, and other local agencies responsible for the development or operation of bikeways or roadways to exercise the same discretion in the design of their bikeways that they exercise in the design of local streets, roads, and highways.”

This dirth of wordcraft is not universal, however. Consider the temporary contents of SB 479 by Sen. Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat:

“This bill would change the name of the Keeper of the Archives to the Chief of Archives.”

A member of Block’s staff says this bill eventually will deal with broader  “records management” issues but, tragically, it will continue to propose elimination of the title “Keeper of the Archives.”

If any title in state government should not be changed it’s this one since it was created along with the State Archives by the first piece of legislation imagespassed by the State of California’s first Legislature in 1850. 

While it may not be as “modern” a title as “Chief of Archives,” “Keeper of the Archives” trumpets the solemnity of the duties of the job to future generations of Californians.

The switch from”Keeper of the Archives” to “Chief of Archives” is comparable to the decline in the language used by criminals noted by the late Justice Robert Gardner of California’s Fourth Appellate District.

Gardner’s perceptiveness and wit were evidenced in many of his opinions over a 53-year judicial career that included a stint as the Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa.

In a footnote to his opinion in 1978’s People v. Benton, Gardner writes:

“It is a sad commentary on contemporary culture to compare ‘Don’t say a word, don’t say a mother-fucking word’ with ‘Stand and deliver,’ the famous salutation of Dick Turpin and other early English highwaymen. It is true that both salutations lead to robbery. However, there is a certain rich style to ‘Stand and deliver.’ On the other hand, ‘Don’t say a word, don’t say a mother-fucking word’ conveys only dismal vulgarity.

“The speech of the contemporary criminal culture has always been a rich source of color and vitality to any language. Yet, when one compares the ‘bawds,’ ‘strumpets,’ ‘trulls,’ ‘cutpurses,’ ‘knaves,’ and ‘rascals’ of Fielding and Smollet to the ‘hookers,’ ‘pimps,’ ‘narcs,’ ‘junkies,’ and ‘snitches’ of today’s criminal argot, one wonders just which direction we are traveling civilization’s ladder.

” ‘Hooker,’ at least, has traceable historical antecedents although the descendants of General ‘Fighting Joe’ Hooker would probably prefer that their famous ancestor be remembered for something other than his army’s camp followers, such as the slaughter at Chancellorsville.”



  1. Thanks for the first chuckle of the day, re the degradation of criminals’ language.

    Comment by JoAnn Anglin — 2.26.2013 @ 7:59 am

  2. Wow! He was even able to squeeze in the Civil War.

    Comment by Bill Schreiber — 2.26.2013 @ 8:30 am

  3. Imagine a Chief of the Flame at Arlington Cemetery…keeper is the proper term and changing state archival duties to chief is just wrong.

    Comment by ThinkChick — 2.27.2013 @ 10:17 pm

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