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California Legislative History Research: Introduction

Attempt to find what legislators were thinking when drafting a law by looking at the documents created during the legislative process.


For a good foundation and understanding of statutory construction in California see 58 California Jurisprudence 3d 520-47 (2004) (KFC80 .C3 1972) (Statutes, §§ 115-27, "Factors Affecting the Determination of Legislative Intent"). Also available in Westlaw (password required). Enter into search box: 58 Cal. Jur. 3d Statutes § 115.

Legislative history material is not published as consistently in California as at the federal level. Committee hearings on bills are not usually transcribed and reports on bills are rarely prepared. There is no written record of debate. That being said, there are some sources which can provide clues to the legislative history and intent of a California statute. Most important among these are the various versions of a bill. Each version of a bill shows the additions and deletions made to the text as the bill made its way through the legislature. The short digest by the Legislative Counsel at the beginning of each bill can also be useful. Some bills expressly include a statement of intent as part of the bill itself, although these "findings" may not appear in the code. For these reasons, be sure to consult the bills as part of your search for legislative history.

The California State Assembly has prepared a useful glossary of terms relating to the legislative process. In addition, the California State Library has a nice guide to the basics of legislative history that links to free sources of legislative information.

Step One: Find Your Code Section in the Annotated Codes

Following the text of the code section, you will often find citations and cross references.  These are called annotations.  More recent legislation may provide cites to (1) Law Review articles, (2) Legislative Counsel opinions which are printed in Senate and Assembly Journals (Stacks, KFC5) and indexed in the Journal under the heading "Legislative Counsel", (3) Law Revision Commission Reports (Stacks, KFC27 .A3), and (4) Attorney General Opinions (Stacks, KFC780 .A55). Also, see if there are any historical notes, references to other code sections, or cites to decisions interpreting the statute. BE SURE TO CHECK BOTH DEERING'S AND WEST; their annotations are not the same. If you have access check Westlaw and Lexis as there may be added material online. See a reference librarian if you have questions about how to locate any of the materials mentioned in the annotations to the code section.

Where do I find all this?

  • West's Annotated California Codes, KFC30.5 .W4, Reserve Collection
  • Deering's California Codes Annotated, KFC30.5 .D4, Reserve Collection
  • Nexis Uni (available on UCB campus without a password)
  • Westlaw or Lexis (password required): In the search box on the main page, type your California code section and click search. 

Step Two: Find the bill number and year

For more recent code sections, the bill number will be in parentheses after the citation to the Statutes and Amendment to the Codes (session laws). Look for this information in the historical note following the code section—e.g.,

Stats. 1992 c. 162 (AB 2650)

If the bill number does not appear in the historical note, consult either the Table of Laws Enacted which is in the first volume for each year of Statutes and Amendments to the Codes (South Reading Room, KFC25 .A24), or the Summary Digest shelved at the end of the Bills for each year (Stacks, KFC5). You may also use this handy new Statute-to-bill-number conversion tool from the Witkin State Library. It covers the years 1865-2023.

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