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Legislative History Research

Federal, California & other states

Initial steps

  • Identify the public law number, the Statute-at-Large, and the bill number(s)
  • Identify the date of the public law

These are usually found in the credits or history annotation to a statute.

Each legislative history project is distinct. In some cases, you may be researching a single statutory provision; in others, you may be researching an entire Act, subsequent amendments, prior proposed enactments, and derivative laws that may not be codified and may even precede statehood. Some annotations include only the most recent enactment; others include derivative laws.

For example, reports about the enactment of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022, mention about 200 prior attempts to pass similar legislation. The legislative history of this Act may include these attempts, or just a sample of them.

Note if the law has Popular Name. Popular names are often identified in the Act and are useful for finding compiled legislative histories.


  • Is a compiled legislative history available?

If there is a compiled legislative history, the work has been done for you. Suggestions for finding compiled legislative histories are on the next page.

  • If a compiled legislative history is not available, or is not comprehensive enough for your purpose, follow the steps in one of the recommended Research Guides.

Locating historic documents

While many legislatures make large amounts of recent documentation publicly available, some materials may only be available in government archives or subscription databases. We identify available resources for locating legislative history materials under Federal, California, and Other States pages.

Recommended Research Guides



Additional State guides