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Legal Research Basics for Summer Clerkships: State Legislative Histories

State Legislative Histories

All states excluding Nebraska have bi-cameral legislative bodies. As such, when compiling state legislative histories many of the processes and documents found on the Federal level are paralleled on the state level. When compiling a state legislative history, it is useful to (1) learn the nuances of compiling a history in the state you are interested in; (2) identify the types of documents available in the state; (3) recognize some states may archive little or no legislative documents; and (4) understand how legislative histories and legislative intent are used by courts in that jurisdiction.

How would you go about addressing those issues? You can: (1) consult law review or bar journal articles; (2) find research guides created by reliable authorities; (3) read court decisions from the jurisdiction either citing or discussing legislative intent or legislative history; and (4) talk to more experienced attorneys. Some examples of those types of resources are included on this page:

  • Legal References Services Quarterly (LRSQ) published an issue devoted to compiling state legislative histories; the Table of Contents of that issue are can be found in the box on the right. If you are looking for information regarding compiling legislative histories for states other than Nebraska, that issue would be an excellent starting point; we have the issue in print and you can also access the articles in Hein Online. Linda Kawaguchi's introduction to the issue, "Determining Legislative Intent in State Courts, Selected Methods and Sources" is included below. I encourage you to read the brief article.
  • Karen Wallace's article on the use of legislative history in Iowa Supreme Court cases illustrates how legislative histories are used in a state court.
  • Mary Whisner's article on other uses of legislative history for those interested in exploring more uses.
  • A sampling of Research Guides shows the types and varieties of guides available online.

State Specific Resources - Research Guides

California: UC Hastings Law Library; UCLA School of Law: Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library; Dorraine Zief Law Library, University of San Francisco School of Law

Illinois: Illinois Legislative Reference Bureau Staff; Illinois & Chicago Legislative History (University of Chicago Library)

Iowa: Iowa Legislative History (Drake Law Library)

Kansas: Kansas Legislative History Research Guide (Washburn University School of Law)

Missouri: Missouri Legislative History: Legislative History (University of Missouri School of Law)

New York: Legislative History Research Guide: New York State Legislative Research (Pace Law School Library)

Ohio: Ohio Primary Law Legal Research Guide: Legislative History (Franklin County Law Library)

South Dakota: Legislative History Research (Federal and South Dakota): South Dakota Legislative History (University of South Dakota School of Law)

Nebraska Legislative History

Many of the types of documents consulted when compiling a Federal Legislative history are also the types of documents used when compiling a Nebraska state legislative history. Although Nebraska is the only Unicameral (one-house) legislative body in the United States, many of the steps in the legislative process mirror what is found on the Federal level: introduction of bills; assignment to committees based on subject of the proposed legislation; committee hearings; floor debates; and submission to an executive branch official.

As a Unicameral, Nebraska's process for legislative consideration by the whole body differs since proposed legislation does not have to be considered by two Houses. In Nebraska, legislation passed out of Committee and considered by the entire body of law makers (Senators) goes through three stages: General File, Select File, and Final Reading. Committee hearings are held on proposed legislation and the bill may be amended by the Committee. Legislation passed out of Committee is debated goes to the floor of the Unicameral for consideration by the entire body. Bills may be amended on General File and Select File; on Final Reading, all bills are read into the record and voted on - there is no debate and the bill may not be amended at this stage. Floor debates from General and Select File are transcribed and any proposed amendments are added to the record. Researchers interested in compiling legislative histories may consult these records to gain a clearer understanding of the introducer's intent in proposing the legislation and the legislature's intent when passed.

In addition to floor debate transcripts and amendments, other resources researchers can consult when compiling legislative histories include:

  • Legislative Journals;
  • Selected Committee Records;
  • Bill books.

Many of these documents are available in print or microfilm. The Schmid Law Library has print resources dating back to Territorial Nebraska in the 1850s and microfilm records from the 1930s. The Office of the Clerk of the Legislature is prospectively making many of these documents available through its website; as financial resources permit, the Clerk's Office is also adding historical records.

The "Unicameral Process and Unicameral's Website" box on the right discusses some of the resources available on the Unicameral's website, and provides coverage dates for each resource.

How to Compile a Nebraska Legislative History

  • Nebraska Legislature: Legislative Histories
  • The CALI lesson, Nebraska Primary Resources: Legislative & Judicial, provides an opportunity to learn more about the Nebraska Unicameral, the legislative process in Nebraska, and how to compile a Nebraska Legislative History. To access this lesson, log on to CALI (https://www.cali.org/) and access Legal Research lessons by state.

Nebraska Unicameral Process and Unicameral's Website

The Nebraska Unicameral's website (https://nebraskalegislature.gov/) includes the following documents: