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California Legislative History

Tips for effectively researching history and analysis of California laws and statutes

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Getting Started

The typical legislative history researcher has a section from the California Code and seeks to determine the legislative intent behind it. Use either of the two California annotated codes to begin this process: West’s Annotated California Codes (LRC California KFC 30 .W4 or on Westlaw) or Deering’s California Codes Annotated (LRC California KFC 30 .D4 or on Lexis). Three numbers are needed to begin compiling a statute’s legislative history: 

  1. The year the statute was enacted.
  2. The chronological numerical designation (Chapter) assigned to the newly-enacted statute.
  3. The bill number assigned while moving through the Legislature.

Example: Cal. Civ. Code §1946.1, immediately following the text of the statute is this parenthetical: 

California Legislative History - Code Example

Record that information, as it is the cornerstone of your research. While you are in the annotated codes, look for Historical and Statutory Notes (if included), and references to Law Revision Commission Reports, committee reports and law review articles pertaining to its legislative history. You may want to check the other annotated code, as the coverage is different between Deering’s and West’s. 

For Statutes enacted prior to 1993, the bill number is not provided in the annotated statutes. 

  • 1967-1992: Use the Summary Digest to obtain the bill number and author.
  • Prior to 1967: Use the Table of Contents contained in the first volume for each year to locate the Table of Laws Enacted, and find your chapter number. The bill number will be listed next to it.

Now that you have obtained this information, you need to use it to find the text of the bill itself along with any analysis – this is likely the most important and most useful aspect of legislative history that may shed light on intent. Your sources for bill text and analysis differ depending on when the bill was chaptered: 1999-present, 1993-98, or pre-1993.

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Bill Text, History, and Analysis

Bill Text, History, & Analysis: 1999-Present

Current Legislative Counsel Website:

                           CA Legislative Information Website - Current

The Legislative Counsel’s Website, http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/, (pictured above) is a comprehensive resource for legislative history for statutes chaptered from 1999 to the present. 

  • The Bill Information tab on the home page allows you to search by keyword, bill number, or statute number and year. Enter the pertinent information into the search fields and hit “Search” to find your bill.

  • Your selection will start automatically on the Text tab (pictured below). Here you will see the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, the text of the bill, and some tabs along the top of the page which link to further legislative history:

    • The Legislative Counsel’s Digest (located at the beginning of the bill text) is a summary of the bill prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel’s Office that tells the legislators what they’re voting on.

  • The History tab shows which committees reviewed the bill and whether there were any hearings or reports.

  • Use this tab to find the committee that the bill originated in (will generally be the first committee listed in time apart from the rules committee).

    • Using this information, you can look on the committee’s website or in the LRC Catalog to find any published hearings or reports. For a list of committee websites, visit: http://assembly.ca.gov/committees.

      • Search LRC Catalog (http://sally.sandiego.edu/search) to determine whether the LRC owns the hearing or report. The general format for this search is: california legislature [assembly/senate] committee on [education/public safety/etc.]

  • ‚ÄčThe Bill Analysis tab often contains Comments and/or Arguments for/against the measure. Committee Analyses are written by the staff of the legislature’s committees, summarizing the committee action on the bill and often including information about the bill’s intent.

  • The Compare Versions tab helps visualize the amendment process: added language is indicated by blue italics; deleted language is indicated by red strikethrough

    • The new website version allows you to compare from any one amendment/ version to any other, which is a feature the old website did not have.

 

Bill Text, History, & Analysis: 1993-1999

Old Legislative Counsel Website:

The old Legislative Counsel Website, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/, (pictured above) includes older bills than the new website, but contains essentially all the same information. A search by bill number, author, or keyword allows you to find a bill and view its Status, History, Analyses, and Votes.

  • Under the “History” section, when you select a particular amended version of the bill, additions are indicated by italics and deletions are indicated by strikethrough.

Bill Text, History, & Analysis: Pre-1993

This older information is not contained in a comprehensive online source like the more recent statutes. 

BILL TEXT:

  • For Assembly Bills 1963-2004: LRC Information Service Microforms KFC 6 .A87
  • For Senate Bills 1963-2004: LRC Information Service Microforms KFC 6 .S46

Legislative Counsel’s Digest: (1850-2008) State Assembly Chief Clerk’s Archives 

  • The bill text contains the legislative counsel’s digest, but if you don’t have access to the text of the bill, you can look at the Summary Digest to see the LC’s summary of the bill.
  • Click on the year of your statute and go to the last volume for that year and click on the appropriate hyperlink for you session & chapter number. (Example below)

BILL HISTORY:

  • Assembly & Senate Final History (Online)
  • Assembly Final History (Print)
    • 1973-present: LRC California KFC 14 .L43 A87 (paper)
    • 1964, 1966-1970, 1981-latest available: LRC Information Services Microforms KFC 14 .L43 A87
  • Senate Final History (Print)
    • 1973-Present: LRC California KFC 14 .L43 S46 (paper)
    • 1964, 1966-67; 1969, 1970, 1981-present: LRC Information Services Microforms KFC 14 .L43 S46

Assembly Analysis:

  • Analyses prepared by the Assembly Office of Research for selected bills from both houses, 1975-2002. If available for your bill, the file will include information on committee actions, a short digest, a summary of comments by committee consultants, and an assessment of the effect of the bill, including fiscal effect. The comment section may provide background information on the bill's intent, and/or list proponents and opponents. The Assembly File Analysis is located at LRC Information Services Microforms KFC 7 .A87.

Other Legislative History Sources

What's this page about?

Most of the most useful legislative history information for California statutes will be found in the bill text, history, and analysis sections described in the previous tab; however, insight into legislative intent can also be found from the following additional sources.

Law Review Articles

Authors of law review articles often gain access to materials generally unavailable and may offer an analysis of legislative intent. 

Citations to articles can be found using:

  • Any annotated code
  • LexisNexis: Shepard’s
  • Westlaw: KeyCite
  • LegalTrac (1980-present) 

Once you obtain the citation, obtain the full-text version in print or online:

  • Print: LRC 1st Mezzanine & 2nd Floor; current issues in Reserve Room. (Check the LRC Catalog to confirm that the LRC owns the desired title and/or volume.)

  • HeinOnline: PDFs of U.S. law reviews, secondary sources, legal treatises, legislative materials, and more.

  • Westlaw: Retrieve by citation or construct search.

  • LexisNexis: Retrieve by citation or construct search. 

  • LegalTrac: Limited number of full-text articles contained in the database.

Assembly or Senate Journal and Appendixes

The Assembly Journals provide an accurate account of proceedings of each house, though not a verbatim report of debates. 

Coverage includes:

  • Titles of all items introduced, considered, or acted upon 
  • Texts of amendments and resolutions 
  • Roll calls upon actions requiring a recorded vote 
  • Messages from the Governor or either chamber 
  • Committee reports 
  • Motions

The bound editions of the Journals include an alphabetical subject index and a bill action index. The Journals can also be useful for determining the committees involved with particular bills. The Journal Appendixes contain administrative reports of state departments, 1881-1943. Assembly committee reports can be found in the Assembly Journal Appendixes, 1957-1970. The Senate Journal Appendixes contain Joint Interim Committee Reports and Senate committee reports, 1947-1970.

ASSEMBLY JOURNAL

SENATE JOURNAL

California Law Revision Commission

Over 20,000 sections of California statutory law have been added, amended or repealed on the recommendation of the California Law Revision Commission (CLRC). While its reports are not conclusive, they do carry great weight in statutory analysis. 

To determine whether your section of the California Code was affected by Commission Recommendations, use the CLRC search tool

When legislation has been adopted as the result of a CLRC recommendation, a citation will be included in the annotated codes and a hyperlink or URL included in the Comments in the Analyses section of the Legislative Counsel’s website. The CLRC makes many of its documents produced since 1957 available free of charge in PDF format on the Commission website under the "Reports" tab and provides information for purchasing reports that are still in print. 

A complete set of printed CLRC Reports is located on site (LRC California KFC 79 .A3). Separately published reports or recommendations can be located by executing a title search (from the citation in the annotated codes) or author search (e.g., california law revision commission) in USD’s online catalog

State Archives

The State Archives also provides research service for those located around the Sacramento area who are seeking legislative history information. If a researcher can specify a particular chapter or bill, Archives staff will identify and photocopy materials in its collection relating to the bill(s) for a per-page fee. 

ArchivesWeb@sos.ca.gov
916-653-2246
See California State Archives Legislative Resources: http://www.sos.ca.gov/archives

Other Resources

A much more detailed explanation of every available source for compiling a California Legislative History is contained in Chapter 4 of Henke’s California Law Guide (KFC 74 .H46 2006). Copies are shelved in the LRC Reserve Room and the Reference Collection. Older editions may be borrowed.

Other useful information is contained at the California State Legislature website.

Commercial Services

Legislative History & Intent provides fee based research and a free library of points & authorities about using legislative documents.

Legislative Intent Service, Inc. provides fee based research.

Ballot Initiative/Referendum

What are the Ballot Initiative and Referendum processes?


                            Many states, such as California, have ballot initiative and referendum processes. B
allot Initiatives and Referendums are legislation that is adopted directly by the voters. The Ballot Initiative process happens when citizens propose or "initiate" a statute or state constitutional amendment.  The process includes writing the initiative and its purpose and collecting the appropriate amount of signatures at least 131 days before a statewide election in order for it to appear on the ballot. Once the signatures are obtained, the initiative is sent to the California legislature where it is assigned to committees.  Those committees hold joint public hearings; however, they cannot change or prevent the initiative from being placed on the ballot.  The signatures are then sent to the appropriate election official for verification. The  Referendum process happens when citizens "refer" a statute already passed by the legislature to the citizens to vote on, in an effort to repeal it.  The referendum process is similar to the ballot initiative process, except the referendum petitions have to be provided to the public and filed within ninety days of enactment of the bill being "referred."   (Aimee Dudovitz ET AL,. California Legal Research (2016))

Why Research Ballot Initiatives and Referendums?

question marksSometimes the language of a statute or state constitutional amendment that has become law through the ballot initiative or referendum process is unclear to the courts. Thus, the courts may look at original intent or the meaning of the statute or amendment as interpreted by the voters. The court may review the ballot summary or arguments and/or analysis provided to the voters in the California Voter Information Guide to ascertain that meaning or intent. Attorneys may need to provide an analysis of intent or meaning of the ballot initiative or referendum to the courts when making their arguments.  (Aimee Dudovitz ET AL,. California Legal Research (2016))

 

How to Research California Ballot Initiative and Referendum History

You may locate ballot initiative or referendum by searching the database at the following link:  UC Hastings Law Library California Ballot Measures Database.  The ballot propositions and initiatives located in this database range 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 & qualification, related legal and legislative history, and pdfs of related official documents." (UC Hastings Law Library website)

You may search the database by entering search terms or browsing. 

Entering Search Terms

  • Enter your search terms in the "Enter Search Terms" box, then choose "Propositions and Initiatives, "Propositions Only," or "Initiatives Only" from the drop-down menu directly below the "Enter Search Terms" box.  You may then sort by relevance or by publication date.  If you sort by publication date, you will need to enter start and end dates. If you do not know the publication date or whether it was a proposition or initiative, then leave those boxes blank and search using only the terms.
  • After entering your search terms and criteria in the boxes, click "search" located beside the "Enter Search Terms" box.   Choose from the list of results and click "Download" to open the pdf.  You may also filter your results by using the criteria located on the menu to the left of your results. You may filter by publication year, publication (initiatives or propositions), publication type, or file type.

                     Browsing:

  • Choose "California Ballot Pamphlets (1911-2020)", "Individual Ballot Propositions", or "California Initiatives" located below the "End Date" box to browse PDF images of these categories. 

 

Other Resources

 

A History of California Initiatives (Secretary of State): This website includes historical study and statistical analysis of California initiative measures.

California Attorney General Official Website:  This website includes full texts of Initiatives (2004-current).

California Secretary of State Official Website: This website includes full texts of Propositions (1996-current).