Legislative History:Federal and Washington
Bridge the Legal Research Gap 2006
University of Washington Law Library
What is Legislative History?
- The progress of a bill through the legislative process
- The documents created during that process
- versions of bills and amendments, committee reports, debates, and hearings
Why does it matter?
- Courts look to legislative history (LH) to interpret unclear statutory language & determine intent of Congress
- Stephen Breyer, On the Uses of Legislative History in Interpreting Statutes, 65 S. Cal. L. Rev. 845 (1992).
- Reasonable uses of LH
- avoid an absurd result
- correct a drafting error
- recognize specialized meanings of words (e.g., standing)
- identify reasonable purpose of phrase
- choose among reasonable interpretations on politically controversial issue
- Argue against use of LH
- Plain meaning rule (look to the language of the statute)
Washington Court of Appeals uses Legislative History
- “When a statute is ambiguous, we apply principles of statutory construction, legislative history, and relevant case law, giving effect to the Legislature's intent.”
- State v. Manro, 125 Wash.App. 165, 173 (2005)
- West Digest Topic [Statutes] & Key Number [217.2]:
- 361k217.2 k. Legislative Historyof Act.
U.S. Supreme Court looks to Legislative History
- “As for the propriety of using legislative history at all, common sense suggests that inquiry benefits from reviewing additional information rather than ignoring it. . . Our precedents demonstrate that the Court's practice of utilizing legislative history reaches well into its past. See, e.g., Wallace v. Parker, 6 Pet. 680, 687-690, 8 L.Ed. 543 (1832). We suspect that the practice will likewise reach well into the future.”
- Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier, 501 U.S. 597, 610 (1991)
Questions Answered in Legislative History
- Who sponsored this legislation and why? What did he or she say about it during debates?
- How did the language of the law change in various versions of the bill?
- What did the Committee recommend in their Report?
Most important legislative history materials, in order:
- Committee Reports (contain analysis & recommendations)
- Bills (including different versions & amendments)
- Sponsor remarks made on House or Senate floor (debates)
- Committee hearings (public hearings held by committees considering bills)
Federal Legislative History
- Research Guide http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/fedlegishist.html
- CIS Index / LexisNexis Congressional
- USCCAN (United States Code Congressional and Administrative News)
Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books, 1st Congress-105th Congress (by Nancy P. Johnson)
Hein Online database contains a Legislative History Library with 15 compiled legislative histories.
USA Patriot Act
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Search Library Catalogs
USA PATRIOT Act: A Legislative History
Federal Estate, Gift, And Generation-Skipping Taxes: A Legislative History
Step 1:Look for Compiled Legislative History
Step 2: Identify LH Documents
- CIS Index & Legislative Histories
- LexisNexis Congressional (available at UW) http://lib.law.washington.edu/research/dbind.html
- Lexis(Legal>Federal Legal - U.S.>Legislative Histories & Materials>US - CIS Legislative Histories)
- THOMAS website
CIS Index (LexisNexis Congressional):
Search for Legislative Histories
by keyword or
Public Law or Bill Number.
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-132
Link to Bills,
- Free website
- Reliable (Library of Congress)
- Contains: public laws, committee reports, bills, debates, hearings
- Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (108th Congress)
(1989 – current)
Bill Summary and Status
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 on THOMAS
Step 3: Locate the Documents
Committee Reports & Public Laws:
- United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN), 1941-date.
- Print OR Westlaw (USCCAN)
- Westlaw – Graphical Statutes
- CIS Legislative Histories online (LexisNexis Congressional or Lexis)
- THOMAS (http://thomas.loc.gov)
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003
- Pub.L. No. 108-105 (Public Law)
- H. REP. NO. 108-288 (House Report)
cite to 18 U.S.C. 1531
found in margin
Link to Public
Law, Bills, Reports,
Step 3: Locate the Documents: Committee Hearings
- GPO Access
- covers 1997-date, selective.
- only online source of official published hearings (other sources are testimony transcripts only).
- Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
publications (e.g., hearings)
Step 4:Analyzing the Documents
- Norman J. Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction (6th ed.).
- [also known as Sutherland on Statutory Construction]
- Ronald Benton Brown et al.,Statutory Interpretation: The Search for Legislative Intent(2002).
Washington State Legislative History Research
Basics of WA Legislative History Research
- In 1897, WA Supreme Court looked at sequential drafts of a bill to determine legislative intent.
- Howlett v. Cheetham, 17 Wash. 626 (1897).
Basics of WA Legislative History Research
- Materials(mid 1970s-current)
- in print at law libraries
- WA Legislature’s website, TVW website, Westlaw & LexisNexis.
- Types of Materials?
- Bill Files, Committee Reports, versions of bills, House & Senate Journals (audiotapes of debates), Committee Meetings (audiotapes)
- Contact People
- WA State Archives -- request copies of “Bill File”
- House & Senate Journal Clerks – audiotape of Debates
Washington Legislative History
- Research Guide http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/washleghis.html
- Legislature’s website
- State Archives
- TVW website
Step 1: Start with RCW section
- RCW § 9.91.170Interfering with dog guide or service animal.
- Statutory history in parenthetical
- [2003 c 53 § 52; 2001 c 112 § 2.]
- WA Legislature’s RCW page
- WA Legislature’s website:
- Bill Information (1997-current)
- Laws and Agency Rules (RCW)
Step 1: RCW 9.91.170
Step 2: Look at Session Law to Get Bill Number
- WA Legislature’s Bill Information page, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/
- Legislative documents:
- bills & amendments, session laws, committee reports (1997 – current)
- How to find Bill Number?
- Chapter to Bill Table, RCW to Bill Table, Topical Index
- Example: Use “Session Law to Bill Table”
- (2001, c.112 § 2) → Senate Bill 5942: Increasing penalties for crimes against dog guides and service animals
What is the
Use “Bill to Law
“Bill Information” page:
by Bill # or keyword
Step 2: Bill Information Page
Step 3:Documents Available Online(1997-current)
- House and Senate Committee Reports
- Final Legislative Report(Final Bill Report)
- Bills & Amendments
- Legislative Digest and History of Bills(chronology & reporting committee)
- Roll Call Votes
Step 4:WA House & Senate Journals
- In print at law libraries (1889-current)
- online at Legislature’s website (2005-current).
- dates of floor action
- “point of inquiry” or “debate ensued” (debate about a bill)*
- *Debates are not printed in Journal; they are available on audiotape from House or Senate Journal clerks (not transcribed).
WA Senate Journal Example
Journal of the Senate (March 12, 2001)
POINT of INQUIRY
[concerning Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill No. 5372]
Senator Brown: “Senator Prentice, is it the intent of this legislation to provide only for agreements with twelve tribes that own and operate smoke shops and not provide a precedent for other tribes which have different circumstances such as independent smoke shops that are licensed by the tribal government, such as Puyallup?”
Senator Prentice: “Yes, this bill represents terms and conditions agreed to by only the tribes listed in the bill. The state recognizes that agreements with other tribes may involve alternative rates and conditions.”
Step 6:Contact WA State Archives
- Committee Bill Files
- Committee Meeting audiotapes
- Mid-1970s forward (not transcribed).
- Research Section of the WA State Archives in Olympia
- (360-586-1492) Research@secstate.wa.govhttp://www.secstate.wa.gov/archives/leg_history.aspx
- They copy and send bill files for reasonable fee.
- Open to the public.
- Governor's files on specific bills
- Legislative Council records (1947-1973) and personal papers of some legislators (files are incomplete).
Step 7:TVW WA’s Public Affairs Network
- WA House and Senate Committee Hearings and Floor Debates
- audio and video
- 1996/97 to current
- Federal LH Research Guide http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/fedlegishist.html
- USCCAN (WL Graphical Statutes)
- THOMAS website
- CIS (LN Congressional)
- Washington LH Research Guide http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/washleghis.html
- Legislature’s website
- State Archives & TV W