State Legislative History in United States
State Legislative History Sources
State Legislative History Online Sources
Free Access Sources
Every state provides free, official legislative body website access to all full text bills from its current legislative session. Typically searchable by keyword as well as bill number, the bills are generally available as facsimile image file reproductions of the official print versions. Retrospective coverage of 10 years or more is not uncommon. Bill tracking reports are also generally provided. Other significant legislative history materials, however, such as hearings and committee reports, are still only sporadically available online, are frequently not widely disseminated in print and may not even exist in any full text, official form. Moreover, the legislative process and legislative history research can vary significantly from state to state. Helping to meet the challenge thus posed for legal researchers are the legislative history guides that have been produced for all states.
They have been collected and made available in full text by: State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web, compiled by Jennifer Bryan, Documents Librarian at the Indiana University School of Law Library. The contents and availability of state legislative journals, historically the most significant official source of information about state legislation, are discussed at a web site maintained by the Yale Law School Library, itself the repository of a “very complete” print collection of these documents.
Useful sites affording direct and sometimes annotated links to bills, bill status reports and additional legislative information for all states include:
- Cornell LII: Law by source: State (Select jurisdiction, then click links under “Constitution and Legislation”)
- Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C.: State Legislatures, State Laws and State Regulations
- National Conference of State Legislatures (Select state(s), then under “One Content Area” choose “Bills” or “Legislators”)
LexisNexis and Westlaw provide coverage of full text bills and bill tracking for all 50 states from 1996 to date and for selected states from 1990/91 to date. A major source for both is Information for Public Affairs, Inc. This coverage is also given by the E-Resource, LexisNexis State Capital, which allows individual, multiple or all-state keyword searching and template-based retrieval of bills and tracking reports by year and bill number citation.
Westlaw has assembled a collection of the growing array of state legislative history-relevant materials that for recent years can be gleaned from official state web sites. Covered but variably available from the 36 states and the District of Columbia currently included are voting records, committeee reports, legislative journals, Governor’s signing messages and legislative transcripts of hearings and debates. These documents can be accessed via the State-LH multibase.
State Legislative History Print Sources
Print source guides to state legislative history research includes:
- State Legislative Sourcebook 2005: A Resource Guide to Legislative Information in the Fifty States; Lynn Hellebust (Government Research Service, published annually) – This comprehensive guide, covering print and online sources, provides a wide range of detailed, current information on the identification and acquisition of state legislative history materials. Sections for each state include “Legislative organization and process”, Legislator information” and “Session information”. State by state legislative bill status and bill room telephone numbers are also listed.
- Guide to State Legislative and Administrative Materials; William H. Manz (Hein & Co.), 2002 ed.; Rev. ed. of: Guide to State Legislative and Administrative Materials / Mary L. Fisher. 4th ed. 1988) – Included in this useful guide is state by state information regarding the availability of current and historical print and electronic format legislation and legislative history documents. Also provided are addresses, phone numbers, E-mail addresses and URLs for assistance in locating and obtaining, sometimes for a fee, legislative documents and bill status information not widely available in libraries or online.
State Legislative History Legal Materials
The amount of available legislative history varies tremendously from state to state. What’s more, getting this material can be tricky, frustrating and time consuming. So when someone asks me to compile a legislative history, I generally call a “Legislative Service” and hire them to do it for me. However, if I’m going to try to do it myself, the first step is to learn about the materials available particular state. Then I’ll generally call the state library and ask them if they can get me copies of the materials I’ve identified.
Legislative Services: The Legislative Intent Service (800-666-1917) will compile legislative histories for any state that has legislative history materials. Other legislative services specialize in getting materials from a particular state. I’ve noted the ones I’ve used successfully in the entries for their states. To find other, you may want to post a query to the relevant AALL chapter listserv for the region. Note: While using a service will cost some money, it is could end up to be less than you would spend trying to get materials long distance. The service will also probably be more familiar with the procedures and materials available in each state and, hence, get better results.
Research Guides: There are a number of online legislative history research guides written for individual states. Most of these guides are listed at State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web. Another good bet would be the “Legislative History” chapter of the legal research treatises written for each state (New York Legal Research, Ohio Legal Research, etc.). You can probably get copies of the legislative history chapter from an academic library in that state.
It is advisable:
- Lynn Hellebust’s State Legislative Sourcebook (published by Government Research Service, 785-232-7720), which explains the types of legislative information available for each state and/or
- calling a reference librarian in the relevant state library and/or
- checking out the state library’s Web site and catalog.
For pre-statehood research questions, see Prestatehood Legal Materials: A Fifty-State Research Guide, Including New York City And The District Of Columbia(Michael Chiorazzi & Marguerite Most eds., 2005).
Westlaw databases: Westlaw has notable databases containing legislative history materials for selected states, such as the State Legislative History – Historical (STATE-LEGHIST) and Governors’ Veto Messages (STATE-LH-VETO). There are also individual databases for the states covered.
For more information on compiling a legislative history for a particular state, check the relevant Guide entry for that state.