Reading Statutes and Bills

How to Read a Bill

Scanning the substantive provisions of a bill for certain features can help you learn valuable information quickly.

Here are some tips on what to look for:

  • Check to see if the bill is adding new language, amending existing language, or both.

    Look for underlined or bracketed language with strike-throughs. (In the session laws, new language is indicated by italics rather than underlining.) Simply noticing the amount and placement of underlined or italicized text and bracketed text will give you an idea of the bill's complexity.

  • Look for definitions.

    Definitions can help determine the scope of a bill and provide clues about its focus. What agencies or entities are involved? Is the bill directed at a particular group?

  • Scan the recital for each bill section.

    Is the bill adding or amending just one section or article of the statutes? Is it adding or amending a subsection? Is it adding an entire subchapter or chapter? Is it making a series of similar changes to sections in different codes or different chapters of one code?

  • Look for conforming changes.

    Often a bill makes a single substantive change to the law that makes related changes necessary in other sections of law. These related changes, known as conforming changes, are often easy to spot because they involve multiple insertions or deletions of the same words or phrases. For example, if the name of an agency is changed, every reference to the agency throughout the codes must be changed to conform to the new name.

    Identify such changes and move on. Don't spend time examining every instance of a revision that is not substantively changing the statute.

  • Check for repealers.

    Read the provisions that the bill repeals. Do the repealers represent conforming or substantive changes? Is the bill replacing one chapter or subchapter with another?

  • Refer to the surrounding sections of the statute to put the bill or bill section in context.

    Understanding the context of the change to law made by the bill is essential to understanding the change.

    Consider the following example:

    Sec. 214.194. MUNICIPAL PERMIT FEE GENERALLY. (a) If a municipality adopts an ordinance that requires a person to pay an annual fee to obtain a permit from the municipality before the person may use an alarm system in the municipality, the fee shall be used for the general administration of this subchapter ....

    (b) A municipal permit fee imposed under this section may not exceed the rate of $50 a year for a residential location.

    SUBCHAPTER F. BURGLAR ALARM SYSTEMS IN CERTAIN MUNICIPALITIES WHOLLY LOCATED IN CERTAIN COUNTIES

    Sec. 214.191.
    DEFINITIONS
    Sec. 214.1915.
    APPLICABILITY
    Sec. 214.192.
    CATEGORIES OF ALARM SYSTEMS
    Sec. 214.193.
    DURATION OF MUNICIPAL PERMIT
    Sec. 214.194.
    MUNICIPAL PERMIT FEE GENERALLY

    Sec. 214.1915. APPLICABILITY. This subchapter applies only to a municipality with a population of less than 100,000 that is located wholly in a county with a population of less than 500,000.

    A precise description of Sec. 214.194(b) would read as follows:

    The alarm system permit fee charged by a municipality with a population of less than 100,000 that is located wholly in a county with a population of less than 500,000 may not be more than $50 per year.