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California Legislative History Research

Introduction

What follows are brief descriptions of some of the more commonly cited sources of legislative history in California. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does include some of the more readily available sources.

Bills

By looking at the different versions of a bill as it makes its way through the legislature, you may be able to infer what the legislature had in mind with respect to a particular provision. Additionally, each version of a bill is preceded by a "Legislative Counsel's Digest," which summarizes how the bill is going to change the present law. Some bills also include a statement of intent within the bill itself.

California bill numbers are preceded by an SB (for Senate Bill) or AB (for Assembly Bill). In each 2-year legislative session, the first bill introduced in the Senate and the first bill introduced in the Assembly become SB 1 and AB 1 respectively, and each subsequent bill during that session is numbered sequentially (i.e., SB 2, AB 2, SB 3, AB 3, etc.). Thus, in order to locate a particular bill, you need to know not only the bill number but also the specific session in which the bill was introduced (e.g., 2007-08 session, 2005-06 session, etc.).

Chapter Laws

Every bill that is enacted in California is assigned a chapter number and is referred to as a chapter law. The first chapter law enacted each year is designated as chapter 1 (c. 1) and each subsequent law is numbered sequentially (c. 2, c. 3, etc.). Any statements of intent included in a bill will also be included in the corresponding chapter law.

Committee and Floor Analyses

Each bill introduced in the California legislature is referred to one or more legislative committees, which draft analyses of that bill. Each committee analysis includes a summary of the events that have taken place in the committee with respect to the bill and often includes statements of legislative intent.

Analyses are also written when the bill is being considered by the Senate and/or Assembly as a whole. These analyses are referred to as "floor analyses."

Committee Reports and Hearings

Legislative committees perform extensive research on many of the legislative topics before them and summarize the findings of their research and their recommendations in committee reports. One way in which a committee obtains information is by conducting hearings during which witnesses testify before the committee on the topic at hand. While committee reports and transcripts of hearings are published and distributed very selectively, they can serve as sources of legislative intent.

Legislative Journals

The Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the Assembly provide a record of legislative activity in the California Senate and Assembly. While most of the information in the journals merely summarizes what has taken place on the floor of the Senate and Assembly or in committee (e.g., floor votes, readings of bills, etc.), the text of amendments to bills as well as selected committee reports and Legislative Counsel opinions are included in the journals.

Weekly and Final Histories

At the close of each week, the Senate and Assembly each publish a Weekly History that provides a listing of all actions taken on each bill introduced during the session, including referrals to committees. At the end of the session, the Senate and Assembly each publish a Final History that covers the entire session. The Histories are useful in determining how far a particular bill went in the legislative process as well as determining which legislative committee(s) considered a particular bill.

Law Revision Commission Recommendations

The California Law Revision Commission, created in 1953, is charged with considering and recommending changes in the law, including the adoption of proposed uniform laws. The Law Revision Commission's written recommendations are printed and sent to the legislative committees that will be considering the recommendations, both houses of the legislature, the Legislative Counsel, and the Governor.  Until the mid-1980s, once a committee approved a bill implementing a Law Revision Commission recommendation, it would formally adopt, as evidence of legislative intent, the Commission materials submitted to the legislature regarding the recommendation. While this practice is no longer followed, these commission materials are still used by attorneys and the courts as evidence of legislative intent when the recommendations have been adopted by the legislature.