I consistently refrain from using this platform for anything other than sharing professional experiences and insights. I feel that this is a sensible approach to writing — covering topics outside of your field of expertise is almost always a foolhardy move (although I’d imagine most things published online fall under this category).

But, to break from my usual routine, I felt that it was very interesting in how the language in the recent May 26th, 2011 bill (S. 990) which extended the PATRIOT Act ended up the way that it is. My intention isn’t to proclaim that this is some never-before-seen legal maneuver, but I found it interesting all the same. I did some looking into the history of the bill, and here’s what I came up with.

Note that I do not cover the full history of the bill here. There were some minor amendments and actions I’m not going to go over, as I felt they were inconsequential in the end.

The Initial Bill

First off, you can find the entry for this bill at the Library of Congress website here:

Library of Congress Entry for S. 990

From the link above, we can see that the Latest Title of the bill is:

Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011

To be honest, I am not too familiar with what the Small Business Act is or what programs it provided. The original legislation appears to have been passed during the year of 1958. On the surface, it would seem like an “agreeable” sort of legislation, assuming it worked as intended.

Here is the text of the S. 990 extension bill when it was first introduced:

Initial Revision of S. 990

The most important thing to read here is:

(a) [The Small Business Act]…is amended by striking ‘May 31, 2011′ each place it appears and inserting ‘May 31, 2012′.

We can see that this legislation is meant to replace all dates of “May 31, 2011″ with “May 31, 2012″ in the Small Business Act, which would result in an extension of all the programs provided under the Small Business Act.

So far, the bill looks like a genuine “small business” bill. Here’s where the interesting part comes in.

The Final Revision

After a few other amendments related to the original Small Business Act were introduced and debated, Senator Reid authored an amendment that managed to pass the Senate which effectively tacked on extensions to the PATRIOT Act to this bill.

The text of the bill with this amendment can be seen here:

Revision Adding PATRIOT Act Extensions S. 990

The part I found most interesting was this phrase, near the top:

In lieu of the matter proposed to be inserted, insert the following:

If I understand that phrase correctly, it basically means everything originally in the bill will be removed and replaced with whatever follows (which, in this case, would be the PATRIOT Act extensions).

You may be asking yourself: “So, the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011 no longer has anything to do with small business?”

As we can see in the final version of the bill, that seems to be the case:

Final Revision S. 990

Quick Thoughts

I found it rather amusing that the final text starts off with:

An Act

To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes.

But then goes on to mention nothing related to small business at all!

All of this would seem to mean then that the Small Business Act was, in fact, not extended. I’m not intimate with the finer details of the Act, and it is not known to me or whether or not it was even effective. Despite this, I’m left wondering why they didn’t renew the Small Business Act.

The legal maneuver I just described could very well be a technique frequently applied in the legislative process, however the PATRIOT Act is a powerful and consequential piece of legislation. Therefore, this specific legal maneuver should be regarded as a powerful and consequential action. And, like any other powerful and consequential action, it bares examining.

Matt Weber

I'm the founder of Bad Echo LLC, which offers consulting services to clients who need an expert in C#, WPF, Outlook, and other advanced .NET related areas. I enjoy well-designed code, independent thought, and the application of rationality in general. You can reach me at matt@badecho.com.

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