Citizen’s Guide: Reading a Bill

Delegate Jeffrey Pack considers a bill on the floor of the House.


How in the world do I tell what a bill actually does?

If you find the language used to construct legislation confusing and inaccessible, you’re not alone. Despite this, one of the first things that I do when a bill that I care about is introduced is take a look at the text of the bill.

On your bill tracker, you can find it by:

  1. Clicking on the text in the far left column, it should be the bill’s reference number.
  2. Once it redirects, scroll down until you see “Bill Text: Introduced Version.”
  3. Click on the link provided to read the text of the bill.


Interested in setting up a tracker of your own to follow bills as they make their way through the legislature? Check out my article on how to do that here.

If you’re not the kind of person who thinks reading the full text of a proposed bill sounds like a good time, here’s a little cheat:

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the bill and you’ll find a section labeled, “Note.” It’s a short summary of what the bill is intended to accomplish. This can be very helpful. However, it’s important to remember that the intent of a bill and the outcome of a bill can be very different, so it’s  important for both legislators and their constituents- us- to consider all of the possible implications of policy decisions.

If you’re ready to take a stab at the full text of the bill, here are the major components you’ll be looking at:

1. The Heading:

The most important information included in the heading is the bill’s reference number, so you can follow its progress, and the bill’s sponsors, so you can tell which legislators felt strongly enough about the issue to back a bill about it.

2. The Title:

Explains the subject that the bill will cover. In WV, the title of the bill has to include all of the subjects addressed by the bill, which can prevent additional issues from being tacked onto the bill during its review process

3. The enacting clause and enacting section:

Most importantly, this is the section which states that the language in the body of the bill will become the law. It also lays out which sections of the existing WV code are affected by the bill.

4. The body of the bill:

Provides the language that will become or change the law. It can repeal, change or add to the existing code. This is the “meat and potatoes” section of the bill.

5. And, as we’ve already mentioned, the explanatory note:

Gives a summary of what the bill is intended to do.

The actual text of a bill can be very dense and difficult to understand, so don’t worry if it seems like a foreign language at first. Often, the best pieces of information to get you started are the ones that are easiest to find.

If you know which legislators care enough to sponsor the bill and you know what the general purpose of the bill is, you can let your representatives know how you feel about the issue and which of their colleagues they can contact for more information about it.

For more info on the anatomy of a bill, check out this resource from WVU.

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