RESEARCHING LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

By Richard C. Edwards, Executive Director,
Legislative Reference Bureau
2008

Updated January 2013 by LRB staff

INTRODUCTION

LEGISLATIVE DOCUMENTS AND PROCESS

OBTAINING RECORDS

RESEARCH AIDS

ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS

EXAMPLE

OTHER RESOURCES

INTRODUCTION

Determining the intention of the legislature is the cardinal rule of statutory construction. Courts seek that intention first in the plain meaning of the statutory language. If the language is ambiguous, however, courts then use intrinsic and extrinsic aids to interpretation. Intrinsic aids include various canons of interpretation, such as expressio unius est exclusio alterius (to express one thing is to exclude another -- negative implication). The legislative history of a Public Act is an extrinsic aid to interpretation. Sulser v. Country Mutual Ins. Co., 147 Ill. 2d 548 (1992); In re October 1985 Grand Jury No. 746, 124 Ill. 2d 466 (1988); Morel v. Coronet Ins. Co., 117 Ill. 2d 18 (1987).

Legislative history includes legislative documents such as bills, adopted amendments, defeated amendments, and conference committee reports; committee testimony, records, debates, and actions; floor debates and actions; and the Governor's messages and actions.

This article describes how to work backwards to determine the legislative history of existing statutory law. Other aspects of legislative history, such as (i) previous statutes on the same subject and (ii) court decisions to which the legislation was a response, are not discussed, although they may be revealed when examining legislative debates. Interpretations of statutes by administrative agencies, the Attorney General, and the courts are also not discussed. Moreover, what weight a court may give in construing a statute to any particular element of legislative history is not analyzed in this article. The intent of this article is merely to describe the documents and actions that comprise legislative history and to give guidance on how and where to find the records relating to those documents and actions.

return to top of page

LEGISLATIVE DOCUMENTS AND PROCESS

The following is an outline of the basic legislative documents and actions that comprise legislative history as they occur in the legislative process:

return to top of page

OBTAINING RECORDS

The following may be found on the General Assembly Web site:

For General Assemblies other than the current General Assembly, use the Previous General Assemblies page.

In addition, records to be used in compiling the legislative history of a statute may be found at the following places:

return to top of page

RESEARCH AIDS

The following research aids may be used in compiling a legislative history of a statute:

return to top of page

ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS

Office of the Clerk
Illinois House of Representatives
115 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: (217) 782-8223

Office of the Secretary
Illinois Senate
403 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: (217) 782-5715

State Archives
Archives Building
1st Floor, West
Springfield, IL 62756
Phone: (217) 782-4866

Index Department
111 East Monroe
Springfield, IL 62756
Phone: (217) 782-7017


Legislative Reference Bureau
112 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: (217) 782-6625

return to top of page

EXAMPLE

A question arises concerning jury instructions if certain hearsay testimony is admitted at trial. These instructions are required by subsection (c) of Section 115-10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/115-10(c)).

A search of Section 115-10 in the annotated statutes reveals that the requirement to give jury instructions was added to that Section by P.A. 85-837.

The next step is to determine what bill became P.A. 85-837 and when the bill was passed. This is found by looking up the Public Act in the Session Laws. P.A. 85-837 was House Bill 2591 of the 85th General Assembly and was passed on June 30, 1987.

The final Legislative Synopsis and Digest for the calendar year 1987 is the next place to look. The synopses reveal that the jury instruction requirement was added to the bill by Senate Amendment No. 1. Senate Amendments Nos. 2 and 3, which did not relate to jury instructions, were also adopted. No amendments were offered and defeated; if any amendments had been offered and defeated, they might be an indication of what the legislature did not intend by House Bill 2591. Sponsors, committee assignments, total votes, and other matters are also indicated in the Digest. The bill was heard in the House Judiciary II Committee and in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House Journal and Senate Journal indicate the following concerning House Bill 2591:

A copy of Senate Amendment No. 1, which adds the new language concerning jury instructions, is found in the Senate Journal for June 23, 1987 and may also be obtained from the State Archives.

A tape of the House Judiciary II Committee hearing on May 7, 1987 is available from the Office of the Clerk of the House. The tape, however, contains no discussion of the jury instruction requirement because that language was added later by Senate amendment. As previously noted, tapes are not available for Senate committee hearings.

Transcripts of the Senate and House floor debates may be obtained from the General Assembly Web site or from the Index Department. The transcripts, however, contain no debate on the jury instruction issue.

The search of the legislative history of House Bill 2591 has so far proved fruitless. That is not necessarily the end of the story, however. Often in the legislative process, proposed language will migrate from bill to bill as the sponsor looks for a way to pass the proposal out of both houses. Therefore, you need to search further.

The Senate sponsor of House Bill 2591 indicated in floor debate that Senate Amendment No. 1, which contained the jury instruction language, was the same as Senate Bill 1377 of the 85th General Assembly. A search of the Legislative Synopsis and Digest indices and synopses also would have indicated this. Thus, the next step is to compile a legislative history of Senate Bill 1377 because it contained language identical to that in Senate Amendment No. 1 to House Bill 2591.

If a search of Senate Bill 1377 also proves fruitless, look through the Digest indices for the same as well as one or more previous General Assemblies. As is often the case with legislative proposals, the language may have been around for several years before becoming law. Somewhere along the way someone may have said or done something significant with respect to the jury instruction issue.

Finally, bills may have been introduced in the General Assembly after the passage of House Bill 2591 (P.A. 85-837) to amend the jury instruction language. Even though these bills did not become law, they still could have a bearing on the interpretation of the jury instruction language. For example, the changes proposed by a failed bill could be an indication of what the language of P.A. 85-837 does not mean; otherwise, presumably, the changes would not have been proposed. Whatever implications may be drawn from these failed bills, it is worth the effort to search for them. This search begins by checking the statutes index of the Legislative Synopsis and Digest for all periods of time around and after the date when House Bill 2591 passed the General Assembly.

As the example shows, compiling a legislative history requires thoroughness and persistence. Although the search may not yield positive results, it is nevertheless worth the effort because occasionally you will find something that will aid in interpreting a statute.

return to top of page

Note: A version of this article appeared in the Illinois Bar Journal, Vol. 84, No. 4, April 1996.


OTHER RESOURCES

There are resources concerning researching Illinois legislative history on other websites:

Illinois Supreme Court

University of Illinois

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Northwestern University

Washington University in St. Louis

John Marshall Law School: HTML; Word

Illinois State Bar Association

Northern Illinois University

University of Chicago

Southern Illinois University Carbondale (PDF)

Loyola University Chicago

Bradley University

return to top of page


Legislative Reference Bureau home