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California Legislative History

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How to Research Legislative Intent in California


A legislative history is a compilation of all documents (bills, amendments, committee reports, etc) preceding the enactment of a statute. It may also include other official and secondary sources that indicate the intended meaning of the law. The goal of assembling a legislative history is usually to demonstrate the intent of the Legislature when it passed the law (the "legislative intent"), in order to apply it to an unforeseen situation or clarify an ambiguous law. 

This Step-by-Step guide outlines the steps in researching California legislative history, illustrates the resources available at the Sacramento County Public Law Library, and suggests additional sources of information. Illustrations are based on the legislative history of California Government Code  § 429.6, which names Bodie as the "official state gold rush ghost town," and and California Vehicle Code § 27360, which requires children under eight to ride in a child passenger restraint system in the rear seat. Click on any graphic to see a larger version.


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Step 1: Identify the Assembly or Senate bill number and year.
Step 2: Find and read all versions of the bill.
Step 3: Read "official" comments and analysis.
Step 4. Locate and review secondary sources of information.

WestlawNext Shortcut! These steps involve cross-referencing information in many different places. Much of this information is available in a conveniently hyperlinked way in Westlaw - but only for bills passed since Jan. 2, 1999. See below for more information on using Westlaw to access this information.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Identify the Assembly or Senate bill number and year of the legislation you are researching (e.g., AB 39 or SB 1031), if you do not already know it. Sometimes this is included in the annotated code. If not, work backward from the statute to find it:

a. Find the session law numbers after the text of the law in West's Annotated Code (KFC30.5 .W48; also available through WestlawNext) or Deering's Annotated Code (KFC30.5 .D4). Check the pocket part!

Gov. Code § 429.6 (West's Cal. Code Anno.)

Chapter 365 is the "session law number."  In this case, the annotated code also gives us the bill number (A.B. 1757), but if it did not, we could use the session law number to find the bill number. This is demonstrated in section b.    

b. Look up the session law number in the annual publication Statutes and Amendments to the Codes.

Stats. 2002, Summary Digest 

Before 1967: Use the "Table of Laws Enacted" (in the first volume of each year) to convert session law numbers to bill numbers.

1967 and later: Use the "Summary Digest" in the last volume of each year. The entry for your statute will include the bill number and other useful information.  

Finding the Statutes and Amendments:

  • The full set, from 1850 to present, is available in the Law Library (KFC30 .A2). Ask the Reference Librarian for assistance.
  • The full set is also available at; use the drop-down menu for "Statutes." Be patient; it can be very slow.

Step 2: Find and read all versions of the bill, plus any attached analysis or statements. Studying the different versions of the bills may be the best (and often the only) source for insight into legislative intent. Compare all prints of the bill, particularly when amendments were adopted or offered and rejected in the course of the legislative process. Read the Legislative Counsel's Digest (available since 1963) for each version.

Check the final text of the session law as printed in Statutes and Amendments, too. The Legislative Counsel's Digest or other helpful uncodified statements may be included.

Bills from 1987 to present (available online):

Assem. Bill No. 1757 (2002 Reg. Sess.) as amended, April 29, 2002 

Since this is a 2002 bill, we can use either online source. If it were an earlier bill, we would have to use outside resources.

In the case of A.B. 1757, a visit to reveals that there were two amendments to the original bill. The first was a minor wording correction, but the second was a significant change: while the original bill would have designated Bodie the "official state ghost town," the amended bill designates it the "official state gold rush ghost town."  

Bills prior to 1987 (outside resources):

 Step 3: Read "official" comments and analysis. For bills since 1993, the official California "Bill Information" website mentioned above has a wealth of information, including analyses prepared for Senate and Assembly Committees.

There are a number of other sources for comments and analysis:

  • Journal of the Assembly and Journal of the Senate
    • 1968-present in print (KFC14 [compact shelving]).
    • Journal of the Assembly (1849-2005) is available free online from the State Assembly at
    • Assembly Journals (1995-present) and Senate Journals (2001-present) are available through WestlawNext. 

    The Journals record the daily activity by each house of the legislature. Use their index to locate the bill and the Journal pages that refer to it.

    Assem. J. (2001-2002), p. 643 (Index)

    Identify which committees examined the bill and the dates.

    Assem. J. (2002), p. 4417

    Here, page 4417 tells us that AB 2357 was sent to G.O.(Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization) on January 10, 2002. 

    Daily entries for your bill may list which legislators supported or opposed it.

    Record of votes (May 13, 2002) Assem. J. (2001-2002), p. 6057 

    You may also find statements of "Legislative Intent," "Legislative Counsel Opinions," or letters clarifying a legislator's understanding of a bill. Such letters are indexed under "Motion to Print Letter Re:" "Journal, Print in" or "Print in Journal".

Index to Assembly Journal displaying "Journal, Print In" listings

  • Final History
    Each year, a Final History for each house lists the steps each bill took between introduction and the governor's signature. The Final History also lists committees and their members, reports received by the legislature listed by topic, and has other useful tables.  
    Assembly Final History (2001-2002), p. 1285

  • Committee records, reports, and transcripts of hearings can be useful in preparing a legislative history, but are not available for all bills.
    • In print: search for the committee that reviewed the bill in the Library's online catalog. Use an "author" search in the format:
             "California. Legislature. Senate (or Assembly) Committee on ….."
    • Committee analysis since 1993 is available for free online at
    • WestlawNext offers bill analyses and histories for both houses  beginning with the 1993-94 session.  

    Outside resources for Step 3:

    • California State Archives, 1020 O Street, 4th fl. Sacramento (916) 653-2246, are an important source of legislative information. Researchers can use the collection on-site. The Archives also offers research services and document delivery. Resources available through the Archives include:
      • Governor's Chaptered Bill Files (1943 - 2002), containing analyses, correspondence, and the text of the Governor's veto message, if any;
      • Legislative Bill Files (1960-present) and Hearing Files (1940-present);
      • Agency Legislative Records (various dates);
      • Authors' Bill Files (1950-present); and
      • Videotapes of selected hearings and floor sessions.  
    • California State Library contains additional reports and hearings. (916) 654-0185.
    • Hastings Law Library in San Francisco is a depository library for California documents.
      • California Ballot Measures Database (1912-present) (
        A comprehensive, searchable source of information on California ballot propositions and initiatives from 1911 to the present. It includes the full text
        of individual ballot propositions, accompanying information contained in the ballot pamphlets, related legal and legislative history, and pdfs of the full  ballot pamphlets. For ballot initiatives, it contains the full text of the individual initiatives, accompanying material relating to their filing and qualification, related legal and legislative history, and pdfs of related official documents.
    • Personal contact with the author(s) of the bill and chairs of committees to which the bill was assigned: You may be able to access material that is not available in any library by contacting legislators or their staff directly. Contact information for current Assembly members is available at and for Senators at

    Step 4: Secondary Sources. There are many other sources that may contain useful clues to legislative intent.

    Law review articles, encyclopedia entries, journals and newspapers may all provide discussion of pending legislation, including articles or interviews by sponsors or opponents. The West and Deering's annotated code entries for your statute may contain references to cases and other material discussing legislative intent. Use both West and Deering's - they sometimes include different information.

    The McGeorge Law Review (formerly named Pacific Law Journal) 1971- present
    This law review publishes annual reviews of major California legislation in its
    Spring issue "green sheets."
    Electronic Access:  On the Law Library's computers, using Hein Online.

    Outside resources for Step 4:

    • Newsbank and other newspaper databases, Sacramento Public Library. Legislation often makes news. Sacramento Public Library offers free access to newspapers, magazines and journals in the library or over the internet. Contact the library (916-264-2700) to get a card.

    Thomas, Turning a Civics Lesson into Sausage, Ventura County Star (Oct. 6, 2002)

    In our case, there are several newspaper articles about AB 1757, which yield information about sponsors (a junior high school civics class), lobbying, and why the bill became surprisingly controversial, leading to the change from "official ghost town" to "official gold rush ghost town." 

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    If you are researching a statute enacted since January 2, 1999, you can do some research quickly and conveniently using WestlawNext. Illustrations are based on the California Vehicle Code § 27360, which requires children under eight to ride in a child passenger restraint system in the rear seat. 

    Begin by pulling up the statute in question by selecting Statutes-California and searching for the citation.  At the top of the results page, click on the "History" tab.

    The History screen gives you easy access to much of the material discussed above. It provides direct access to versions of the law on different dates, which lets you see how it changed over the years; the text of bill drafts, to trace how a particular bill was introduced and modified; editor's and revisor's notes, which outline when the law changed over the years; and legislative history materials such as Assembly and Senate Journal entries, committee reports, floor testimony, and the governor's messages.  The "Validity" section alerts you to cases, statutes, and current legislation that may limit or overrule your law.  

    All of this information is pulled together in the "Graphical Statute" screen. For each time period, you can see a comprehensive list of the applicable version of the law, any bills that affected it during that time span, and relevant reports and journal entries.

    You can see at a glance that there are 19 documents associated with the current text. Scrolling down gives you direct access to all 19 regardless of source.

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    It may be cost-effective to hire someone to do your legislative history research. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Legislative Analysis & Consultants" and "Legislative Research." Information on some of these firms is available from the Law Librarians.

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    At the Law Library

    California Jurisprudence 3d Statutes, §§ 115-127. KFC 80 .C35 (Ready Reference)
    These sections, on "Factors Affecting the Determination of Legislative Intent," explain when and how legislative intent can be used in court.
    Electronic Access: On the law library computers, using WestlawNext.

    California Law Revision Commission reports, 1953 to present, KFC27.C3
    The Commission studies laws to determine if they need to be revised or updated, and issues reports to the Legislature, which are considered important legislative history. If a report is available for your law, it will be listed in the annotated code. You can also search for reports, including some free downloadable material, at the Commission's website.

    Research & Practice Guide: California Legislative History & Intent KFC74.A9C34 (Reference Desk)
    This guide by Carolina Rose of Legal Research, Inc. covers how to use legislative intent in court, the legislative process, and sources of information. Chapter 4 gives detailed descriptions of many legislative background resources, including where to find them and the best ways to get access to them.
    Electronic access: available free online at

    Henke's California Law Guide KFC74 .H46
    Chapter 4 covers legislative intent and explains in depth what you can find in different sources such as bill files, Senate and Assembly Journals, and more obscure sources.

    Legal Research in California KFC74 .H36 (Reference Desk)
    Chapter 7.18 lists sources for California legislative history information. Chapter 19 gives a detailed example of how to prepare a California legislative history.

    On the Web

    "Guide to the Legislative Process," from the California State Senate, is available on the Web at It sets forth a detailed description of the legislative process and a glossary of legislative terminology.

    Senate Office of Research maintains a website with Senate analyses on background information for many subjects of potential legislation, as well as specific information on past legislation and ballot proposals, at

    Legislative Analysis Office publishes reports which sometimes include information on specific legislation and ballot proposals. The office also prepares fiscal analyses of all proposed initiatives (prior to circulation) and analyses of all measures that qualify for the statewide ballot. 


    Updated 3/2013 kf