State Statutes

State Statutes in the United States

Technically, a “statute” is an individual law, the equivalent of a Federal “Public Law” or “Private Law,” also known in many states as “Chapter Laws” or, more generally, as “Session Laws.” In all states, most (but not all) statutes are “codified,” that is, integrated into the state’s Code of laws by subject.

In practice, a state’s “statutes” can mean either (a) the state’s individual session laws or (b) the entire Code of laws. Generally you can tell the difference by the context, but not always, so sometimes you have to ask for clarification.

This entry provides a fairly comprehensive overview of sources available for U.S. state statutory material. This resource covers print and online sources, as well as commercial, academic, and government sources. See also Local Statutes.

Getting statutes

All states (and the District of Columbia) publish hard copy versions of their statutes. You can look up the exact title of the state’s published session laws from blue pages on that state in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation or Appendix 1 of the ALWD Citation Manual.

The traditional ways to get statutes are (a) to pull the book off the shelf of your own library, (b) to borrow the appropriate volume from another library or (c) to get copies by calling the document delivery service in a law school or bar association library. These are all still excellent ways of getting statutes and code sections.

Now you can also get statutory information free online. States post their recent statutes on the Internet, either directly or through a designated publisher. You can find links to these materials using American Sources On-Line (ALSO) or FindLaw’sState Law Resources page. Use these wisely; there is no guarantee that the government sites are up-to-date or user friendly.

All state Codes are on Lexis (xx-ALS) and Westlaw (xx-ST-ANN or xx-ST-ANN),Loislaw and, for most states, Fastcase. These are all reliable sources, and printing out sections is often quicker than photocopying. Lexis and Westlaw also offer annotatedCode sections for most states.

Most states post their recent session laws free, usually on their legislature’s web site. You can link to most of these sites through American Sources On-Line (ALSO) or FindLaw’s State Law Resources page.

You can search state session laws on Lexis (xx-ALS) and Westlaw. Databases usually go back to the later 20th Century.

Subscribers to the Hein Online Digital Session Law Collection can access older session laws for all 50 states going back at least to 1981. The Collection has much deeper databases for a number of states including California (1849), Florida (1822), Illinois (1809), Maryland (1777), New York (1775), Ohio (1803), Pennsylvania (1776), Texas (1824) and Virginia (1776).

The LLMC Digital Law Library by the Law Library Microform Consortium also has deep databases of old session laws. The Library is available by subscription only, but it is available through many academic and membership library web sites.

Multi-State Searching

The fee-based services all let you search statutes from multiple states at the same time. LawGuru’s Multiple Research Tool lets you do something similar by simultaneously searching multiple online Code sites.

Example of Topical Arrangement of State Statutes

Click any of the letters:
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | W | X | Y | Z

Pg. 6-24 of the book “In Legal Research, How to Find and Understand the Law”, by Stephen Elias and Susan Levinkind, provide a good introduction about state statutes:

“State statutes are organized by subject and published in two formats:

  • annotated volumes that contain explanatory information about each statute and references to court decisions that have interpreted the statutes, and
  • non-annotated volumes, which contain only the text of the statutes.

Some states organize their statutes into codes according to subject. California, for example, has a separate code for each legal area—the Penal Code for criminal statutes, the Education Code for education statutes and so on. New York organizes its statutes in a similar fashion, except that instead of the word “code,” the word “law” is used. In New York you find education statutes in the volume called Education Law, the criminal statutes in the volumes labeled Penal Law and so on.

In a number of other states, statutes are collected into annotated volumes organized by title number or by “chapter.” In Vermont, for instance, the Vermont Statutes Annotated (Vt. Stat. Ann.) consists of Title 1 through Title 33, each Title covering a particular subject matter area.
Finally, in still other states, the statutes are simply numbered sequentially without regard to their subject matter and published in collections with such names as Massachusetts General Laws Annotated (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann.), Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann.) and Maine Revised Statutes Annotated (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann.).”

Updating and Validating Statutes

Regardless of what source the researcher or practitioner use to locate a section of an statute, he or she should always update and validate that section. For further information on how to update and validate an an statute section, click here for information about Updating and Validating Statutes with Shepard’s (on Lexis) and KeyCite (on Westlaw).

Using State Statute Indexes

See State Statute Indexes.

State Statute Citations

Citations to state statutes in general refer to the volume or title (the first number of the citation), and after the section numbers. In the states that have codes, like New York and
California, citations show the name of the Code or, as in New York, the Law name, followed by the section number.

More about citing statutory provisions:

Statutes and Law

Searching Statutes

Statutory Construction

Statutory construction is useful to interpreting state statutes. See enactment for more information.

Compiled Statutes

See Compiled Statutes.

Statutes Annoted

See Statutes Annoted.

See Also

Public Laws
Private Laws
Shepardizing
State Bills and Bill Tracking
State Constitutions
State Regulations
Administrative Codes

State Statutes (Censorship)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of state statutes. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Censorship is provided. Finally, the subject of Internet Law in relation with state statutes is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.

State Statutes: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about State Statutes. This part provides references, in relation to State Statutes, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about State Statutes by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about State Statutes and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about State Statutes or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to State Statutes and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting State Statutes. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about State Statutes should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to State Statutes when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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