Bills start out with specific language “as introduced.” Amendments are how that language gets changed. They’re either done in committee or on the floor, but have to be voted on. Amendments are how the legislature makes sure all the changes are official and accounted for. It’s a way of keeping track, and allows changes as a bill progresses through the system.
What is a “delete all?”
A “delete all” is a kind of amendment. While most amendments make individual changes to the text of a bill – either adding or subtracting certain language – a delete all strips all of the current language out of a bill and replaces it at one time. A delete all is helpful if there have been multiple changes.
Think of a bill like a car engine. If a spark plug goes bad, you just swap out that spark plug, or if you decide that synthetic oil is better than conventional, you drain out the old oil and put the new in. The spark plug swap or oil change would be like individual amendments. The engine is still the engine, but you’ve got new parts.
But let’s say you have an engine with lots of issues. It needs two new spark plugs, a hose, an oil change, and a fan blade is bent. You could do individual fixes (amendments) or your mechanic could offer you a whole different engine. Swapping out a new engine for the old would be like doing a delete all – it’s still an engine, but all of the little problems get taken care of at once. Efficient, right? Right.
However… here’s the catch with delete all’s – it’s really easy to sneak in extra changes. If you have an unscrupulous mechanic, and he gives you a different engine that fixes the spark plugs, the hose, the oil change and the fan blade, he could also “forget” to mention that one of the pistons has a crack in it. If you have an unscrupulous legislator, they could “hide” extra provisions or changes in a delete all. This has the highest probability of happening with large omnibus bills, or at the end of session, when lots of things are happening quickly. Intentional swaps and unintentional mistakes are the reason that legislators should be afforded time to read the bills they’re voting on, especially when there are changes right at the end.
In legislation as in life, make sure to read the fine print.