Skip to main content

Finding California Legislative History

A guide and checklist for finding California Legislative materials of use to legal researchers.

Check for Any Assembly File Analysis

These nonpartisan analyses of bills are prepared by the Assembly Office of Research for selected Senate and Assembly bills. They typically include a committee digest, comments, fiscal effects, and amendments. The Assembly File Analysis discusses the bill in its final form.

Microfiche Source

Assembly File Analyses, 1975–2002: microfiche, Fiche Cabinet 9, Drawer 2.

Check for Committee Analyses

Committee analyses for recent legislation are available on the internet (1993– ) and on Lexis and Westlaw (1991– ). These analyses offer insights into the potential effect of the legislation and indicate which interest groups supported or opposed the bill. Only non-partisan analyses are available online, and superseded analyses are not included.

Print Sources

For older analyses see Committee Bill Files in the section of this guide dealing with "State Archive materials" section of this guide

The Hastings Law Library also has committee analyses from some committees for a limited range of dates.

Online Sources

Committee analyses for recent years are also available online via these sources:

Check the Governor's Chaptered Bill File

This is an essential step in compiling a California legislative history. If you are unable to check yourself, consider hiring one of the legislative research companies listed in the "You may need specialized help" box in the "Introduction" section of this guide. These companies will include a search for chaptered bill files in their services.

Chaptered Bill files from 1943 to the present may be available. Before 1991, some governors, however, sealed their bill files and others never gave them to the Archives. Beginning with the Pete Wilson administration in 1991, all governors are required by law to deposit their public papers in the Archives.

Here's how the California State Archives describes the Chaptered Bill File:

Of particular importance in the Legislative Files is the Chaptered Bill File for the light it throws on legislative intent, on the arguments for and against a measure, and on the issues and interests involved respecting the bills enacted into law. For each bill the Governor signs there is a separate folder which normally contains analyses by the Legislative Counsel, Attorney General, the Governor's Legislative Secretary, and occasionally, the author. Additional support or opposition is sometimes found in the form of letters, petitions, telegrams, etc. The cover of each chapter folder serves as a checklist of agencies, organizations, and individuals to whom inquiries were directed for views and comments. Vetoed bill files are identical with the exception of the inclusion of the Governor's veto message.
California State Archives, Inventory of the Governor's Office Records 5 (2000)

Unfortunately, there are no digital sources for Governors' Chaptered Bill Files.

Libraries and archives that have Governors' Chaptered Bill Files in print or microfilm

Check the State Archives for Unpublished Files

What you might find at the Archives

The state archives contain a wide variety of background information on legislation. Some of the major resources are listed below. For each of these resources, the content of the files may vary drastically from one bill to another, and for some bills no file may exist at all. If you call the Archives in advance, they can tell you whether they have a file on the bill and how many pages it contains. For a fee, they will make copies of legislative materials and mail them to you. You can also visit the Archives and make your own copies. If you choose to have the Archives make copies, expect a turn-around time of at least a week. Always have the year and bill number before calling the Archives.

These are the sorts of documents you might find:

  1. Governor's Chaptered Bill File (1943– ). A file the governor reviews before signing or vetoing a bill. Useful material might include: "enrolled bill memoranda"; "enrolled bill reports"; a letter from the bill's author; other letters or background material; messages from the governor. For more detail, see the Governor's Chaptered Bill File section of this guide.

  2. Committee Bill Files (1960– ). Files prepared by the committee considering the bill. These include: analyses; summaries of testimony; minutes; legislative counsel opinions; miscellaneous background material.

  3. Committee Hearing Files (1940– ). Files (often containing transcripts) from committee consideration of a particular issue. May include consideration of one or more bills. Besides transcripts, other useful material might include: statements or testimony not in transcripts; legislative counsel opinions; various background documents.

  4. Authors' Bill Files (ca. 1950– ). Maintained by the author of the bill. (Legislators are not required to deposit these with the Archives, but many do.) At best, a thorough documentary record tracking the progress of the bill. May include: documents prepared by interested third parties; press releases; other background information.

  5. Videotapes of selected floor sessions and committee hearings. Senate, 1992 to present; Assembly 1988 to 1998.

  6. Agency Legislative Records (dates vary). Documents generated by state agencies with an interest in the legislation. May include: analyses; policy memoranda; position statements; background information. Particularly useful if the bill in question originated with the agency.

  7. Caucus Bill Files (1973– ). Contains: Democratic and Republican party caucus analyses reflecting the parties’ views.

  8. Legislative Bill File (1849– ). Contains: summary and text of bill (and amendments); name of author; record of progress through the legislature. Useful only in the absence of other information.


Contacting the Archives

California State Archives
1020 "O: Street, 4th Floor
Sacramento, CA  95814.

(916) 653-7715 (General Information)
(916) 653-2246 (Reference)

Hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:00 pm

Check the Senate and Assembly Journals

The Journals sometimes include Legislative Counsel opinions,legislators' letters of intent or other communications about bills, and Governors' veto messages. Although these valuable documents will not be available for most bills, you should always check the Journals to see if they happen to contain anything useful regarding your bill.

To find legislative intent documents in the Journals, check the indexes. There are no standardized subject labels, so be creative in choosing what headings to look under. Some useful headings are: the legislator's name; the governor's name; "Legislative Intent - Letters of;" "Legislative Counsel" [or the name of the Legislative Counsel]; "Journal - Print in - [member's name] - communication;" "Motions & Notices - Print - Letter;" "Motions & Notices - Motion to - Print - Letter;" "Print in Journal;" and "Reports - Legislative Counsel."

The Senate and Assembly Final Histories ("Bill History," above) can also help you find relevant information in the Journals. In the Assembly Final History, check the table of contents under "Opinions of Legislative Counsel" or "Legislative Counsel Opinions" to find a list of opinions and their location in the AssemblyJournal.
In the Senate Final History, check the listing of "Reports Noted and Received" under the heading "Legislative Counsel" for reference to Legislative Counsel opinions. Check under the Author's/Senator's name for "letters of intent" or "letter regarding [bill number]."

The Journals also contain "Bill Action Indexes" to lead you to every mention of the bill. (Most of these mentions, however, tell nothing about the intent or purpose of the bill.)

Print Sources

  • Journal of the Assembly, 1989 to date, KFC 14 .C23 Law Stacks.

  • Journal of the Senate, 1989 to date, KFC 14 .C24 Law Stacks.

  • Journals of the Assembly & Senate, 1913– : microfiche, Fiche Cabinet 9, Drawer 2 (Assembly & Senate)

  • Appendices for 1939– are filed with the microfiche for the year in question. They may be filed before or after that year’s fiche. (Appendices for 1913–1939 are filed separately on microfiche in Fiche Cabinet 9, Drawer 2.)

Online Sources

California Senate and Assembly Journals are also available online via these sources. (The free web sources for the Journals let you display the Journal for specific dates but do not allow key word or topical searches.)

School of Law | 2130 Fulton Street | San Francisco, CA 94117-1080 | (415) 422-6307