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Legislative History Research

Should I Research a Law's Legislative History?

Assembling a legislative history can be difficult and time consuming. Often, even after a long search, a careful researcher will often turn up little or no useful information. It is a good idea to carefully consider if a legislative history will assist you with your legal argument.

The first question every researcher should ask is "Will a legislative history help with my legal question?" Former Justice Landau of the Oregon Supreme Court laid out the three uses of a legislative history in statutory construction:

  1. Resolving ambiguity in the text

  2. Establishing the general purpose of the legislation

  3. Confirming what the analysis of the text shows

(Hon. Jack L. Landau, Legislative History and Statutory Construction, in Oregon Legislative History: Research and Time Management Tips from the Experts (OLI 2015))

If you have decided that you can use a legislative history in your argument you may want to weigh the utility of the history against how difficult you may find creating the legislative history. Some factors in assessing such difficulty are:

  • Are you an experienced researcher?
  • Are you interested in a single bill or the status of a statute over time?
  • How old is the history you are interested in? Is it prior to 1953? Is it prior to the capital fire of 1935?
  • How complex is your question and would it have been considered at the time of enactment?

 

If you decide to pursue a legislative history you can use this guide and listed resources to assemble a robust history for your legal argument

What is a Legislative History?

A traditional legislative history refers to the documents produced by the legislature as a bill is introduced, considered, and debated.  These documents can include:

  • Legislative committee reports
  • Written and oral testimony to legislative committees
  • Floor debates
  • Bill versions and amendments

Many other documents can help clarify the intent of the legislature or resolve ambiguous statutory language. These depend on the character of the law in question. They include sources like:

  • Commentary of the Oregon Law Commission
  • Commentary on adopted uniform or model acts
  • News reports
  • Stakeholder (Lobbyist) or Agency statements
  • Ballot measure explanation or arguments

7 Steps to Compiling an Oregon Legislative History

 

  1. Identify relevant session laws using the Oregon Revised Statutes
  2. Locate the Enacted Bills in the Oregon Laws
  3. Check the Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS)
  4. Check for existing Oregon State Archives Legislative Tracings
  5. Identify committee dates using the House and Senate Journals
  6. Review committee minutes and exhibits
  7. Locate additional legislative and quasi-legislative records

**Download a PDF Document of the 7 Steps

Legal Advice

**Please note that law librarians are only able to provide guidance for legal research purposes.**

For legal advice, you may want to contact the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service. The first in-office consultation with an attorney referred through this service is $35 or less. 

State of Oregon Employees: Contact the library for specialty legal research materials that may be available at your desktop.

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