LOCATING STATE LEGISLATIVE HISTORIES
Any law usually starts out as a bill (or a number of related bills) introduced in one house or the other in some legislative body. Quite apart from the bill itself, the legislature may organize hearings, issue reports, hold debates, or otherwise generate various publications during the legislative process. These materials do not form any part of the law itself, but a careful reading of them may give us some idea as to the "intent" of the legislature in enacting the particular law.
Generally speaking, it is exceedingly difficult to find anything at all in the way of state legislative history material. Most states simply do not publish the subsidiary materials that are generated during the consideration of a proposed law. In some cases, state legislators have made it clear they do not want the courts to have any leaway in the interpretation of state legislation. The attitude seems to be: "just apply the laws as the legislature wrote them!"
This attitude is somewhat naive and unrealistic, because no legislature has ever drafted laws that are absolutely free of gaps, unforeseen interpretation problems, and ambiguities of language. So long as there is more than one possible interpretation, so long as there are "gaps" in the wording of a statute, so long as language is an imprecise tool, the courts will be called upon to interpret the laws enacted by legislatures ... and the courts will inevitably "legislate" in the process, despite the fulminations of the purists.
WHERE TO LOOK
There are a few places in which one might search for state legislative histories, but the amount of materal to be found will virtually never be as extensive or as substantial as that available for federal statutes. Federal legislative histories usually tell you more about penguins than you ever cared to know about penguins, whereas state legislative histories are just the opposite.
- Check your state ANNOTATED code. You may find some type of legislative history comment in the annotations that follow each section of the code. Sometimes, a legislative reform commission is involved in drafting the statute, and its report or commentary may be included in the annotated code.
If you find that your state has copied a statute enacted earlier in another state, you might check for legislative history materials in the first-enacting state.
If your state has adopted a uniform law or model law drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws or the American Law Institute, you might check Uniform Laws Annotated, Master Edition [RESERVE]. This set publishes all uniform laws drafted and recommended by the NCCUSL. In addition, ULA has notes on decisions applying and interpreting the various uniform laws in states that have adopted them. Sometimes, you can trace the development of uniform laws through earlier Tentative Drafts which are available in large research libraries. SEE ALSO: the Handbooks of the NCCUSL.
CAUTION: Although the ALI's objective is to promote uniformity among the fifty states in certain types of legislation, some states actually amend or otherwise alter the original uniform law when they adopt it. Your state may not have adopted the uniform law exactly as originally drafted by the A.L.I.
- During the legislative process, the bill (which eventually became your law) was probably amended a number of times. Any language added or dropped may provide some clues as to "legislative intent". Check the various versions of the House and Senate bills as they worked their way through the lawmaking process. Our library binds and retains bills introduced in the state legislature.
- Check the House and Senate Journals for your state. Usually, however, you will find only brief minutes of proceedings and an indication of the final vote on a measure.
- If your state has a LEGISLATIVE SERVICES BUREAU (or some similar agency), it is possible this agency has published some type of legislative history for some of the most significant legislation. This is true for Indiana in a very small number of cases. Check the online or card catalogs under INDIANA LEGISLATIVE SERVICES BUREAU (or Indiana Legislative Council, the former name of this agency). A call to the Legislative Services Bureau might be worthwhile.
- It is possible that someone involved in the legislative process has published an article concerning his/her experience in drafting and assisting in the enactment of a particular law. Such an article would normally appear in a bar journal or law review published in your state.
- You might check the Guide to State Legislative Materials (looseleaf) by Mary Fisher. [REFERENCE KF 1 .G8 1988]
- The U.S. Government Printing Office publishes a Monthly Checklist of State Publications. [U.S.GOVT.DOCS. LC 30.9] Current issues are kept in the Government Documents Office until hard copy binding takes place. Unfortunately, this publication does not pick up everything published by state governments.
- The Council of State Governments publishes a monthly newsletter entitled State Government Research Checklist. Current issues are kept at the law library circulation desk.