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Finding California Legislative History

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

Research Librarian

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John Shafer
University of San Francisco School of Law
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

This Guide in PDF

Here's a slightly modified PDF version this library guide as well as a fillable PDF version of just the Checklist:

What is a Legislative History? How Do I Get Started?

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.

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. As well, 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 well 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).

You may need specialized help to do your California legislative history.

Many useful California legislative documents are unpublished and stashed away in archives or in file cabinets in legislative offices in Sacramento. This information can be very enlightening, but it is hard to find — especially for anyone who only rarely does California legislative research. If a legislative history is critical to your case or research project, consider hiring one of the legislative research services listed below:

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.

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