Bill numbers

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Of last week’s editorial on fuel economy standards, Christian Breiding of Glendale writes: ‘When The Times publishes an editorial which refers to pending federal or state legislation, it would be helpful if the piece named the legislation by its official name and resolution number.’ On state and national news stories as well, readers often suggest the same thing.

The Times has a style on how to render bill numbers (‘AB 123,’ for instance, no hyphen) but not on whether to use them. It’s been done over the years on an irregular basis, depending on various editors’ preferences.

Most of the editors responding suggested that in the future, stories online should include more information -- including data about how individual legislators voted.

Stories out of Washington usually include in them how California representatives voted, but entire lists are published only on major legislation. On Breiding’s request on the Nov. 20 editorial, editorial pages editor Jim Newton responds: ‘We do occasionally note bill numbers, generally when we’re focused on a specific bill, not several at once. We could’ve done that here, but obviously didn’t -- in part because we were dealing with this issue more broadly and referencing more than one bill. We are trying to do more with links on the website, and one thing we certainly could do there is link to bills. Let me suggest that for future editorials.’


Deputy managing editor Melissa McCoy -- who oversees the copy desks, which keep an eye out for details such as this -- speaks to the overall issue when she wrote back in an e-mail, ‘We haven’t been doing this with any consistency, though we probably should. It isn’t onerous and can be helpful to readers who want to know more.’

The editor responsible for state, regional and local coverage, David Lauter, points out that ‘frequently stories about an issue revolve around several different bills or proposals that haven’t been put in specific bill form or sometimes a proposed amendment to a bill. So it’s not always a simple issue.’ He adds that, ‘yes, when a bill number is available, we should use it. And if there’s a web link to a bill text or legislative analysis, we should include it.’

McCoy says that she’ll work with Clark Stevens, who oversees style and usage for The Times, to formulate a plan on providing bill numbers.