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Finding California Legislative History

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


What Do You Need to do a Legislative History? What are the first steps?

Your first task is to determine whether you are conducting a history of legislation or a legislative history. A scholar writing a law review article might only be interested in the history of a particular piece of legislation: when and who introduced a bill and how it made its way through the legislative process. As discussed below, a legislative history is part of a persuasive argument to the courts on how to deal with a statute that is not clear on its face. While the sources you consult and the techniques you use are the same, the final products are very different.

A legislative history is an examination of the documents created during the process by which a bill becomes law and is sometimes used by courts to find legislative intent if a statute is vague or ambiguous. Determining legislative intent is only necessary if the statute is clearly ambiguous; also, be mindful that case law may address and resolve any ambiguity, rendering a legislative history moot.

There are two main California legislative history research tasks you might need to tackle.

  1. The first is when you must trace the documentary "history" of the statute by assembling the documents that represent various versions of the legislation itself.

  2. The second, immensely more difficult, involves trying to determine legislative intent by analyzing all documents related to the passage or rejection of the particular bill or law.

This second task is particularly challenging because of the limited availability of California legislative history documents (in contrast to federal legislative history documents). For example, committee hearings on California bills are usually not transcribed, and reports on bills are rarely prepared. Additionally, there is no written record of debate.

If you need only to trace the documentary "history," you might be able to do the work yourself fairly quickly. However, if your goal is a comprehensive search to determine legislative intent, doing the work on your own may be too time-consuming and difficult, and it might be much more efficient and cost-effective to hire a commercial service to search for the materials for you instead.

An important caveat: if someone's fortune or freedom is riding on the results of a California legislative history, you should seriously consider using a commercial legislative history research service in addition to—or instead of—your own research (see the box directly below).

Use a specialized research service to assist in doing a California legislative history.

Many valuable California legislative documents remain unpublished and are often stored in archives or in file cabinets within legislative offices in Sacramento. While this information can be highly informative, it is challenging to locate, particularly for those who infrequently conduct California legislative research. If a comprehensive legislative history is essential for your case or research project, consider enlisting the services of one of the legislative research firms listed below. Additionally, be mindful of the caveat that if a client's freedom or fortune depends on an analysis of legislative intent, use a professional service to ensure a complete and diligent history.

More Advice on Doing California Legislative Histories

These sites have lots of good tips and advice on doing California legislative histories.

About Westlaw & Lexis Searches

This library guide contains a number of examples of searches in different Westlaw and Lexis resources. You must have a valid password for those services in order to use the example links. Not all Westlaw and/or Lexis subscription agreements will include all the resources listed in this guide.

Statutory Background

Check the California Codes

Converting the Code Citation to a Citation to the Original Statute

This step helps you find the original statute and its bill number. The citation to the original statute is immediately after the text of the annotated code section and will look something like: Stats 1982 ch 839

There may be more than one such citation for any given statute. If your interest is in the statute as originally enacted then look for the oldest date. If you are concerned with a later amendment then you must determine which dates and chapter numbers correspond to that amendment.

Annotated Codes as Sources of Legislative History Information

The annotations may cite to cases and law review articles that in turn refer to legislative history materials, and (especially for more recently-enacted legislation) may also cite to committee reports, Legislative Counsel opinions, Law Revision Commission reports [Location: KFC 27 .A3 Law Stacks], and Attorney General opinions [Location, 1943 to present: KFC 780 .A55 Law Stacks. Location, 1899 to 1943 (microfilm): microform room, Film Cabinet 2, Drawer 8]. Historical notes may briefly summarize amendments and notes may also refer to other related code sections. Check both Deering's and West; their coverage is not necessarily the same.

Print Sources

Deering's California Codes Annotated, KFC 30.5 .D4 Law Stacks

West's Annotated California Codes, KFC 30.5 .W4 Law Stacks

Online Sources

Online sources include the following:

Read the Original Statute

Use the citation you found in the "Check the California Code" step to locate the original statute.

Read this original pre-codification version of the statute to see if there are any variations from the version that appears in the code. Also, check for an "urgency" statement or other language related to intent that may have been excluded from the codified version. Finally, if you're using Deering's legislative service, check to see if there is a "Legislative Counsel’s Digest" (which may contain clues about intent) immediately before the text of the law.

Print Sources

Statutes of California (also known as Statutes and Amendments to the Codes of California) KFC 25 .A231 Law Stacks.

Note: The state takes several years to publish the Statutes of California. The same material for recent years (including useful tables and indexes) is in the following commercial source:

Deering's Advance Legislative Service KFC 30.5 .D4 Law Stacks. Latest 2-3 years. Shelved immediately following Deering's California Codes Annotated.

Online Sources

Pre-codification versions of statutes are available online via these sources:

Convert Chapter Citation Into Bill Number

You'll need a bill number to find further information on the history of the legislation.

To find the bill number, check either (1) the "Table of Laws Enacted," which is located in the first volume for each year of the Statutes of California, or (2) the Summary Digest (KFC 16 .S85 Law Stacks, 1978– ). Note the author of the bill, too, when that information is given.

Print Sources

Statutes of California (also known as Statutes and Amendments to the Codes of California) KFC 25 .A231 Law Stacks.
(Also available on microfiche from 1970 to the present. Fiche Cabinet 31, Drawer 5.)

Note: The state takes several years to publish the Statutes of California. To convert a chapter citation to a bill number for more recent legislation, use Deering's Advance Legislative Service or West's California Legislative Service, below.

Summary Digest, KFC 16 .S85 Law Stacks, (1978–  )
[Beginning in 1967, the Summary Digest is also printed in the last volume of the Statutes of California. The Summary Digest for 1867– is available at the San Francisco Public Library Government Information Center.]

Deering's Advance Legislative Service KFC 30.5 .D4 Law Stacks. Latest 2-3 years. Shelved immediately following Deering's California Codes Annotated.

West's California Legislative Service, 2009- , KFC 30.5 .W4 Z5 Law Stacks

Online Sources

You can also use these online sources to convert chapter citations to bill numbers  for recent legislation.

Bill History/Versions

Find and Review the Bill History

The bill "history" is actually just a chronology of actions taken on the bill.

Critical information from the "history" includes: (1) bill authors and sponsors; (2) dates of amendments; and (3) reviewing committees. Information about committees helps you find published or unpublished reports or hearings. Knowing authors' and sponsors' names lets you request from them any unpublished information on file.

Bill histories are listed by bill number and are printed in each session's Senate (or Assembly) Final History (or, before 1964, in the Final Calendar of Legislative Business).

Print Sources

Senate (or Assembly) Final History, KFC 14 .C31 Law Stacks,1973 to present.
(Publication of these Final Histories is slow. Check the California Legislative Portal (below) for the most recent 5 or so years.)

Final Calendar of Legislative Business, 1921-1964. KFC 14 .C3 Law Stacks.
[The Final Calendar from 1867- is available at the San Francisco Public Library Government Information Center. The Final Calendar from 1919–1943and from 1947–1964 is available at Hastings Law Library.]

Online Sources

Bill histories for recent years are also available online via these sources:

Read All Versions of the Bill

This is the single most important step in researching California legislative history and intent!

Often the only clues to intent are in (1) the occasional explicit statement of intent, (2) whatever you can infer from the language of the bill — the various amendments, additions, and deletions made to the bill as it went through the legislative process, or (3) theLegislative Counsel's Digest, which precedes the text of the bill.

The Legislative Counsel's Digest accompanies each version of every bill and compares current law to the proposed bill. It may also be found in the Summary Digest.

Print & Microfiche Sources

  • Current bills: in the Reserve Book Room. Ask at the Circulation/Reserve desk.

  • Bills from previous sessions: microfiche, Fiche Cabinet 8, Drawers 4 to 7 (1967–2004).

  • Bills prior to 1967:

    • San Francisco Public Library Government Information Center (1867– )
    • U.C. Berkeley Law Library (1913– with some gaps, call number: KFC 5)

Online Sources

Full-text bills for recent years are also available online via these sources:

Analyses & Archives

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 Analysis, 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.)

Committee/Sponsor Information

Check for any Published Committee Reports or Hearings

It is rare to find published reports and hearings, but some do exist. Generally the published reports or hearings rarely concentrate on a specific bill. Instead, they tend to focus on a more general problem facing the State. Therefore, when consulting the sources below, be sure to check the years immediately preceding the bill for hearings and reports on the general subject addressed by the bill. Most hearings are never transcribed. For very recent hearings, however, it is sometimes possible for interested persons to request a transcript from the chair of the committee that conducted the hearing.

To find out which committees may have conducted hearings or issued reports on a bill, consult the Bill History — the Final Calendar or Final History.

Print tools for finding citations to hearings & reports

Use these print sources to find out if a hearing or report is available in print.

  • California State Publications, 1982 to 2000 on microfiche, Fiche Cabinet 8, Drawer 2. Arranged by committee. (For later editions, see the "Online tools" listed below. For earlier editions, consult one of the other libraries listed in this guide.)

  • Hearings and Reports of Committees of the California Legislature, 1965 to 1984, with some gaps, KFC 20 .R45 Law Stacks). Lists published documents alphabetically by committee.

  • California Interim Legislative Committees and their Reports, 1957 to 1961, KFC 20 .L4 Law Stacks). Lists published documents by committee and also has a subject index. (For earlier editions — going back as far as 1937 — consult one of the other libraries listed in this guide.)

  • The Appendices of the Journals of the Senate and the Assembly from 1946 to 1970 (for the Senate) and from 1956 to 1970 (for the Assembly), Fiche Cabinet 9, Drawer 2. During these years, the Appendices contained selected reports of the standing and joint committees of the California legislature. The Appendices for 1939– are filed right before or right after the Journals for the year in question.

  • California Hearings and Reports Index, 1984-–1994 by Laura Petitore, Hastings Law Library, KFC 20 .P48 1995 Law Reference Desk.


Online tools for finding citations to hearings & reports

Hearings and reports from the California legislature are not available online. But these online sources will tell you if a hearing or report is available in print.

Contact Legislative Offices for Unpublished Information

For relatively recent legislation it is often useful to call: (1) the author and sponsors of the bill; (2) the committee(s) that considered it; and/or (3) any partisan caucuses (the Assembly or Senate Republican and Democratic Caucuses) that may have been involved. A staff person may be willing to check the relevant files for useful documentation on the bill.

Free Online Sources

The California Senate and Assembly maintain these lists of members, committees, and caucuses.

Other Sources / Libraries

Check for California Law Revision Commission Reports (1953– )

The California Law Revision Commission "is an independent state agency created by statute in 1953. It assists the Legislature and Governor by examining California law and recommending needed reforms." Its work is useful to legislative history researchers because in recommending revised legislation to the legislature, it issues reports that include "a narrative explanation of the proposed law, proposed statutory language, and official Comments on each affected code section."

Useful documents you might find include: "Printed Reports"; "Tentative Recommendations"; "Staff Memoranda"; and "Background Studies."

Print sources, Zief Law Library

California Law Revision Commission Reports Recommendations and Studies. (1957– ). KFC 27 .A3 Law Stacks

Free online sources

California Law Revision Commission are available on its web site.

Check for Historical Code Revision Information

Depending on when the code section you are researching was enacted, these sources may have some useful background information.

Reports and other documents of the California Code Commission, 1929–1953

USF's Zief Law Library does not have these reports. To find them, check with the libraries listed in the Other Libraries section of this guide. Search their catalogs author: "California Code Commission." (The California State Library has a particularly good collection.)

Histories of selected California codes in supersededWest Annotated Code volumes

Consider these if your code section was enacted relatively early in California's history. With one exception, these may all be found on microfiche in Fiche Cabinet 9, Drawers 3 to 7.

  • Civil Code: Arvo Van Alstyne, "The California Civil Code," 6 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-43 (1954)
  • Code of Civil Procedure: Justin Miller, "History of the California Code of Civil Procedure," 23 West;s Annot. Cal. Codes 1-44 (1955).
  • Education Code: Joseph L. Knowles, "The Education Code," 26 West's Annot. Cal. Codes XLIX-LVIII (1955). [Not available on microfiche at USF. Consult a Zief Library research librarian for help locating this title. Available at in print the Hastings Law Library and the Berkeley Law Library.]
  • Government Code: Charles Aikin, "The Government of California," 32 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-29 (1955).
  • <Insurance Code: Sidney L. Weinstock and John B. Maloney, "History and Development of Insurance Law in California," 42 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-57 (1955).
  • Probate Code Lowell Turrentine, "Introduction to the California Probate Code," 52 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-40 (1956).
  • Public Utilities Code: Roderick B. Cassidy, "Public Utility Regulation in California," 57 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-24 (1956).
  • Revenue and Taxation Code: J. Gould, "The California Tax System," 59 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-77 (1956).
  • Vehicle Code: J. Allen Davis and Harry V. Cheshire, Jr., "California Motor Vehicle Legislation," 66 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-57 (1960).
  • Water Code: J. D. Strauss and George H. Murphy, "California Water Law in Perspective," 68 West's Annot. Cal. Codes 1-49 (1956).

Check for Executive Agency and Court Agency Reports

The Executive Agency or Department that Sponsored the Bill

If your research reveals that a California executive branch agency sponsored the bill, you may want to contact that agency to see if it still has any files (which may include unpublished or otherwise hard-to-find material) on that bill.

California Judicial Council

The California Judicial Council is a non-legislative arm of the courts that may sponsor legislation or issue reports on topics that are also under legislative consideration.

The Zief Law Library has print copies of California Judicial Council Reports for 1967 to the present at KFC 951 .A83. (Current year in Law Stacks; previous years in Law Compact Storage.) Recent Judicial Council reports are available on the Council's web site.

Check for Law Review Articles

While legislative documents produced during the creation of a statute are primary sources for inferring legislative intent, law review articles can offer valuable background information and details not found elsewhere. However, courts may not be persuaded by information from these articles, as they are secondary sources and may not accurately reflect the lawmakers' original intentions. Courts typically prioritize official legislative records and documents over external analyses when interpreting statutes.

Especially note articles from the McGeorge Law Review/Pacific Law Journal (in print at K 16 .A26 Law Stacks, the State Bar Journal (1921–1981, in print at K 3 .A536 Law Stacks), and the California Lawyer (1981–present, in print at K 3 .A537 Law Stacks). For older legislation, also check CEB's Review of Selected Code Legislation (in print at KFC 27 .R4 Law Compact Storage).

Since 1970 McGeorge Law Review (Pacific Law Journal prior to 1997) has published a review of selected California legislation of the prior year first issue of each volume. This may give some leads on legislative history sources.

Finding law review articles on California legislation

Index to Legal Periodicals can be particularly helpful because it lets you search by statute name or by subject. (The Zief Law Library's Finding Articles guide has more tools for finding law review articles.)

Check for Newspaper Articles

Articles in non-legal newspapers (such as the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the San Francisco Chronicle) may provide clues to the background and purpose of the legislation. The Sacramento Bee, as the Capitol's paper, has particularly good legislative coverage.

Most newspapers have web sites containing current (and sometimes archival) materials — though you may hit a pay wall if you are not a subscriber. For older statutes, you may need to find the microfilm version of the newspaper. The Gleeson Library at USF keeps microfilm of the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Other Bay Area libraries that have large microfilm newspaper collections are: San Francisco Public Library and the main library at U.C. Berkeley.

Both Lexis and Westlaw have major California newspapers, and both Lexis and Westlaw have group sources that allow you to search several newspapers at one time. Links to those sources are below.

Selected online sources for California newspapers

Consider a Trip to Another Library

If the Zief law library doesn't have what you need, you may want to visit one of the local libraries that has a larger collection of California state publications. Note that some of these libraries are not open to the general public and special arrangements may be necessary to access their collections.

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