The Nature and Scope of Legislation

Legislation is the legal procedure by which a sovereign state creates laws or makes new rules of conduct. In legal terms, legislation is the body of law that has been enacted by a legislature or some other governing authority. While it is generally known as legislation, before an item of legislation is formally enacted it might also be called a bill, and can be further divided into sub-committees, sub-acts, and sections. While bills make up the bulk of legislation, many important pieces of legislation are considered secondary legislation, which is not written down in the same way as the primary legislation. This type of secondary legislation can have a significant impact on the functioning of the legislature.


The main function of legislation is to establish and promote general public policy. Each piece of legislation impacts individuals and institutions differently, depending on their relationship with the legislature. For example, legislation that establishes a right to work cannot affect the employment of minors, nor can it affect the eligibility of people who have suffered an injury at the hands of another. Similarly, legislation concerning property taxes cannot affect taxation of home improvements made by non-residents, nor can it restrict the transfer of property to a child or spouse of a person who was not a resident of the United States when the property was acquired. As you can see, the role of legislation is extremely important and is best left to the legislature.

Regulations, on the other hand, are enacted to govern the activities of a non-regulatory organization, such as a regulatory state. Regulations generally fall into one of two categories: issuers of licenses and registration. Issuers of licenses are regulated by the state in which they operate, while members of registration organizations must register with the state in which they operate. Regulations do not affect the ability of issuers or registration organizations to operate freely, so long as they operate within the framework set by the regulatory state. Regulations also establish deadlines, restrictions, penalties, and other requirements, which are all subject to the law and are necessary for the operation of the business community.

In order for a regulation to be considered as a piece of legislation, it has to fall under one of three categories: (a) a revenue measure, (b) a rule, or (c) a special issue. A revenue measure is legislation that establishes a tax, makes the tax a specific amount, or specifies the amount that will be levied on particular transactions. A rule is legislation that regulates the administration or management of a firm, including the formulation of standards and procedures. Finally, a special issue is legislation that addresses an extremely narrow problem-a lack of compliance with an applicable regulation.

The United States Congress has determined that there are three distinct concepts that should guide the use of legislation. First, legislation exists to address a problem; second, the purpose of the legislation is to solve a problem, and third, the legislature is sovereign over the creation of laws. According to Thomas Carlyle in “Law and the Difference it Can Make,” all three concepts are necessary for a just and rational society.

Unfortunately, many governmental officials have no knowledge or training in the matter of how to formulate, pass legislation, or take judicial notice of such laws. Therefore, the legislation is often poorly drafted, contains numerous exceptions, and/or contains no express limitation on its powers. As a result, many pieces of legislation become effective without the necessary checks and balances. For instance, a piece of legislation may provide protection for workers from retaliation or protect the environment, but because of the excessive exception that it contains, the legislation becomes ineffective as soon as an employee decides to sue the employer for wrongful termination.