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Compiling State Legislative Histories (with information on Indiana Legislative Documents)

Describes state legislative documents, basic strategies to use in gathering state legislative publications, and select sources to be used in determining intent for state legislation. Information on Indiana legislative documents is presented.

Legislative Documents

State legislative documents are similar to federal legislative documents, but their availability varies widely from one state to the next. These documents include the following:

  • Session Laws
  • Legislative Journals
  • Bills and Resolutions
  • Committee Records (reports, debate, hearing transcripts and testimony)
  • Records of Policy or Interim Study Committees

Research Tip: The key to successfully locating a state's legislative history documents is to understand the state's legislative process (which can vary significantly from state to state) and to know what documents are generated during that process. This information can be found in a state-specific legislative history research guide. Legislative history guides for all 50 states are indexed at State Legislative History Research Guides.

Indiana Legislative Process

The following publications offer insight into the Indiana legislative process and the work of committees:

Session Laws

When researching state legislative history, start with the session law. Session laws are all the laws from a given legislative session published in the order in which they were passed. Session Laws also include special and private acts that never become part of the codified laws. 

The session law will include a citation to its originating bill. You can then use the bill citation to research legislative journals and to locate sponsor information and any available legislative documents.

Session Laws are available from the following sources:

  • Libraries
    • Research Tip: Use Bluebook table T1.3 to determine the official title of the publication of a state's session laws. This will make it easier to search a library's catalog (IUCAT or WorldCat).
    • For example, the session laws of Indiana are officially titled Laws of the State of Indiana, Passed and Published, at the . . . Session of the General Assembly, but they are popularly referred to as Indiana Acts.
    • The Law Library has the Indiana Acts in print from 1816 to current.
  • HeinOnline 
    • HeinOnline's Session Laws Library contains the session laws for all 50 U.S. states.  The state session laws are current within 60 days of the printed publication and date back to inception.

Legislative Journals

Content and Format

"While the content and format of the journals vary from state to state, most of them report daily action of both houses, including comments and sometimes debate from the floor, bills and resolutions, roll call votes, and usually full texts of amendments. Some states include addresses of the governor, reports of committees, opinions of legislative counsel, subject and bill indexes, as well as a variety of miscellaneous state documents. While some of this information can be found in other disparate sources, some is unique to the legislative journals, particularly roll call votes and introduced bills. These state materials have been elusive to researchers, and scholarship in state legal history has suffered. Many scholars of state legislative history are not aware that these volumes exist and, for those who know about them, access has been a continuing problem." (Scott Matheson & Bonnie Collier. "State Legislative Journals: The Reconstruction and New Deal Eras, Feasibility for a Digital Project")

Research Tip: If you don't have a bill number, you can search by subject in the legislative journal's index. In addition to this Index by Subject Matter, indexes for legislative journals can offer the following research tools:

  • Table of Contents
  • Membership and sponsor information, including committees and roll calls
  • Summaries of bills and resolutions
  • Chronological histories of bills and resolutions
  • Vetoed Bills
  • Proposed constitutional amendments
  • Synopses of legislative action

It is also possible for legislative journals to contain statements of intent from policy committees making recommendations to the legislature.

State Legislative Journals are available from the following sources:

  • Libraries
    • The Law Library has print copies of both the Indiana House Journal and the Indiana Senate Journal (Indiana Collection, ground floor)
      • Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Indiana, being the . . . session of the General Assembly (1827-1827; 1857-current)
      • Journal of the Senate of the State of Indiana, during the . . . session of the General Assembly (1928-current, incomplete)
    • Research Tip: Search a library catalog (IUCAT or WorldCat) using LEGISLATIVE JOURNALS--[name of state] as a subject search. 

  • Official Legislative Websites
    • Some state legislative journals are available on official legislative websites, e.g.:
      • The Journals for the Indiana House and Senate are available at the website of the Indiana General Assembly; House (2004-current) and Senate (2005-current).
      • Other state examples include the following: California State Assembly Journals are available dating back to 1849 on the website of the Chief Clerk; Michigan House and Senate Journals are available dating back to 1995 on the website of the Michigan Legislature; Texas House and Senate Journals are available dating back to 1995 on the websites of the Texas House and Senate, while scanned versions of journals from the 1st Legislature (1846) through the 26th Legislature (1899) are available on the Legislative Reference Library's website.

  • Historical Digitized Online
    • Historical state documents have been digitized and are hosted at non-official sites, e.g.:
      • A digitized collection of nineteenth century Indiana legislative journals from the Indiana State Library is accessible from the Internet Archive
      • Other collections of digitized state legislative journals accessible from the Internet Archive include those for California, Florida, Georgia,  Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
    • Indiana Memory
      • The Indiana Digital Library, is a collaboration of Indiana libraries, museums, archives, and related cultural organizations to enable access to Indiana's unique cultural and historical heritage through a variety of digital formats and free distribution over the Internet.  Search by Topic (Government)
    • Search the HathiTrust catalog using LEGISLATIVE JOURNALS--[name of state] as a subject search. 
    • The Online Books Page (University of Pennsylvania) maintains a list of collections of digitized state legislative journals.

Bills and Resolutions

Bills are the most reliable of the legislative publications. The versions of the bill as it proceeds and goes through textual changes throughout the legislative process might often be the only way to determine the legislators’ intent.

State bills and resolutions are available from the following sources:

  • Libraries
    • The Law Library has print copies of Indiana bills and resolutions dating back to 1951, shelved in the Indiana Collection on the ground floor.
    • Research Tip: Search a library catalog (IUCAT or WorldCat) using Bills, Legislative--[name of state] as a subject search. 
  • Official Legislative Websites 
    • Official legislative body websites are an important source for both current and archival bill text and bill tracking. Every state provides free access to the full text of all bills and resolutions from the current legislative session on its official legislative website. These sites are usually searchable by keyword, bill number, or subject. The bills are usually available as PDF's of the official print versions. Look for retrospective or archival coverage and for a bill tracking service.
  • The Indiana General Assembly website is a source for bill text and bill tracking dating back to 1999. 
    • To Find Current Bill Information
      • From the top horizontal menu on the General Assembly's website, under the category “Legislation,” click on “Bills” to open the page for bills from the current legislative session.  This page offers a numerical list of the current session bills.  From this page you can also search for bills by bill number.  Go back to the top horizontal menu drop-down box for "Legislation" to search for or browse legislation by subject or legislator.
      • A bill's page includes a bill digest (with a summary), current status, bill actions list (a detailed legislative chronology), the text of bill versions ("Bill Versions"), fiscal impact statements, a list of Indiana Code citations affected, any committee reports, the text of companion bills, amendments, and the enrolled act version.  You can view the 2014 archive and previous archives from this page
      • .A bill's page includes
        • Latest Version
        • Latest Fiscal Note
        • Bill Details (bill digest with a summary)
        • Bill actions list (a detailed legislative chronology)
        • Senate and House Amendments
        • Roll Call information
        • Text of bill versions (with fiscal notes)
        • Committee Reports
  • To Find Historical Bill Information
    • In the Session Archives there is an overview page for each legislative session dating back to 1999, which includes the following useful tools:
      • "Complete Information for All Bills." This page includes a bill digest (with a summary), current status, action list (a detailed legislative chronology), the text of bill versions ("Bill Versions"), fiscal impact statements, a list of Indiana Code citations affected, any committee reports, the text of companion bills, amendments, and the enrolled act version.
      • "Additional Bill Information," which includes Table of Citations Affected, conversion tables for bill number to public law number and public law number to bill number, and summaries of bills.
      • Committee schedules
      • Veto action
    • From the bottom horizontal menu on the General Assembly's website, under the category "Archives," click on "Session."  This will take you to the "Session Archives" page, which lists the historical legislative sessions dating back to 1997.  Under the appropriate session year, choose "Bills and Resolutions." 

Committee Records

After its first reading, a bill can be assigned to a committee for review, where it might be scheduled for public hearings. The merits of the bill are discussed during the hearing and interested persons speak in favor of or in opposition to the bill. The sponsor of the bill (and other members of the committee) will make statements as well. Committees will vote on the bill after hearings are held. Additional committee work involves the consideration of amendments, reporting the bill back to the legislative body, and the forming of conference committees to reconcile differences.

Availability

The availability of committee records (reports, debate, votes, hearing transcripts and testimony) varies by state. Online availability is sporadic and many state legislative committee records are not widely disseminated in print or even exist in a full-text official form.

For example, there is a distinct lack of legislative history documents available from the Indiana General Assembly:

  • Debates and floor consideration in the Indiana General Assembly are not officially recorded
  • Minutes of hearings are kept only for study committees
  • Committee reports exist online, for the current legislative session and are archived (dating back to 1997). But these reports do not include any explanation, analysis, rationale, or statement of intent. Committee reports include only the committee's recommendation (e.g., "do pass") and/or the recommended amended text.

Digital Collections

Digitized collections of state legislative documents become available as libraries and state agencies scan committee files, work sessions, and historical records. The following are some examples:

  • Brevier Legislative Reports (Indiana). Transcripts of debates and speeches from the floor of the Indiana Senate chamber and the Hall of the House of Representatives from 1858 to 1887.

Audio and Video Records

Various state legislatures offer web streaming of their sessions, as well as recorded floor sessions (debate), committee hearings, and work sessions.  For example:

  • Indiana General Assembly
  • The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) began audio recording the floor sessions of the Tennessee General Assembly in 1955. Transcripts are not available, but an audio listening area is available at TSLA.
  • Montana Legislative Services provides digital audio and video of legislative meetings, some available dating back to 1999 on the Montana Legislature website. You can find more information about Montana Legislative inventories on the Montana History Wiki's Legislative History Guide.

Policy or Interim Study Committees

When a state's legislature is not in session, interim legislative committees and commissions meet to conduct in-depth research and analysis on complex issues facing the state that are likely to come up before the legislature the following year. Interim committees hear expert testimony and open their meetings to the public, seeking comments in person or in writing. These committees work to form recommendations which become proposals considered during the next legislative session.

In Indiana, interim study committees meet when the General Assembly is not in session during the fall and the summer, and usually complete their work by November 1st.

Some state legislatures publish their interim committee membership and files online. Files can include notices, agendas, minutes, reports, and preliminary drafts of legislation. For example:

 Party or Caucus websites are another source for Interim Committee records. For example: