University of Houston Law Center

O’Quinn Law Library

Texas Legislative History Research

 

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INTRODUCTION

Legislative history research is as important at the state level as it is at the federal level. Texas statutes can have ambiguous or conflicting language requiring the need to determine legislative intent. Legislative intent is used to interpret statutory language and the purpose of the legislation. This information is not only vital for legal scholars but is sometimes utilized by the courts in rulings that turn on the language in a specific statute. Hence, it is imperative that attorneys and law students have knowledge of the legislative process, be familiar with the types of documents that are created, and know where to locate them.

It is relatively easy for a researcher to create a legislative history of a federal law. Most academic law libraries (including the O’Quinn Law Library) have access to print and electronic resources that contain federal legislative history documents. For laws passed since the mid 1990s, there is a large amount of federal legislative history information available for free on the Internet.

It is more difficult to research legislative history for state laws, including Texas state law. Historically, a researcher would have to travel to the state’s capital in order to conduct a comprehensive state legislative history. The good news is that the Internet now provides researchers with access to a substantial amount of state legislative history information. There are two web sites that those researching Texas Legislative History will need to use: The Texas Legislature Online (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/) and the Texas State Legislative Reference Library (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/).

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THE TEXAS LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

In the United States, the legislative process is similar on the state and federal levels. Here is a brief summary of the Texas legislative process:

1. A bill is introduced into the Texas State House of Representatives or the Texas State Senate.

Documents Created: Introductory version of the Bill, Bill Analysis

2. The legislator introducing the bill (the sponsor) may make remarks concerning the bill when it is introduced. These remarks are recorded in the House or Senate Journal.

Document Created: Remarks recorded in the House or Senate Journal

3. The bill is assigned to a congressional committee.  The committee holds hearings on the bill in order to collect information about the bill’s subject matter.

Document Created: Hearings taped from 1973-present, no transcripts available

4. The committee considers reports and analysis pertaining to the bill and then votes on it. The committee may amend or substitute the bill with another bill during this process.

Documents Created: Committee reports, Amendments, Bill Analysis

5. If the committee recommends the bill, it is sent back to the full House/Senate to be debated and voted on. The bill may be amended on the floor in order to make the bill more appealing to legislators.

Documents Created: Floor Debate, Bill Analysis, Amendments

6. The House/Senate votes on the bill. The votes are recorded in the House/Senate Journal. If the House/Senate passes the bill, the bill is then sent to the other legislative chamber to be considered. The process is similar in the other chamber.

Documents Created: Votes recorded in the House/Senate Journal, Engrossed Bill

7. If the other legislative chamber passes an identical version of the bill, the bill is sent to the Texas Governor to be signed into law.

Document Created: Enrolled Bill

8. If the other legislative chamber passes the bill, but makes changes to the text of the bill in the process, members from both chambers convene a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two versions. The conference committee produces a unified version of the bill and a report explaining the committee’s actions. The unified version of the bill is then sent to the Governor to be signed.

Documents Created: Conference Report, Bill

9. If the Governor signs the bill, the bill becomes law. If the governor vetoes the bill it will be returned to the legislature where it will have to receive 2/3 majority of both houses to override the veto. If the governor refuses to sign the bill it will become law after 10 days unless the legislature is within 10 days of adjournment. In this case the governor would have 20 days to take action on the bill. After the bill becomes law, the entire text of the law is published in the General and Special Laws of the State of Texas (the session laws of the State of Texas).

Document Created: Session Laws published in the General and Special Laws of Texas

10. After the bill becomes law, the language of the law is incorporated into the Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statues. The print version of the Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statutes is commonly referred to as “Vernon’s Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statutes Annotated” or simply “Vernon’s.”

Document Created: Law incorporated in the Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statutes

Keep in mind that a Fiscal Note and Impact Statement are usually issued when legislation is proposed and at virtually every major step of the journey that a bill takes to become law. For more comprehensive information about the Texas Legislative process, please consult the Texas Legislature’s Web site and the Legislative Reference Library of Texas Web site.

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AVAILABILITY OF TEXAS LEGISLATIVE HISTORY DOCUMENTS

The previous section lists the information created during the Texas Legislative Process. This section reviews if and where that information can be accessed.

1. Bills and Bill Files

The bill file will include the various versions of the bills, bill analyses, fiscal notes, bill history, committee reports, and committee analyses.

(a.) 1993-present:

The Texas Legislature Online Web site contains bill files for all bills from 1993 forward. The history of the bills is available from 1989 forward.

(b.) 1943-2001:

Microfiche copies of bills considered by the Texas Legislature from 1973 to 1987 are accessible at the Texas State Legislative Reference Library in Austin, the Dallas Public Library, and the Houston Public Library History Department at (832) 393-1658.

Legislative Archive System

The Texas Legislative Reference Library makes scanned bills available online from 1943-2001 on its Web site at http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/lrlhome.cfm. The coverage keeps expanding and will likely include bills for years prior to 1943 in the near future. A bill search tool allows the user to enter the bill or chapter number and immediately connect to the bill file in the Legislative Archive System. An advance search option contains a variety of features ranging from searching bill captions for all legislative sessions to searching by author for certain sessions. The Web site provides more information about these options at http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/research/billsearch/LASstatus.cfm

(c.) Prior to 1943:

The Texas State Library and Archives in Austin has print copies of all bills considered by the Texas Legislature prior to 1943. It is the only source for bills from this time period. These print copies are also available until 1971.

2. The House and Senate Journals

The House and Senate Journals may include remarks made about the bills by members of the legislature on the floor of the House and Senate. The journals for each legislative session include indexes that help researchers to locate references to their bill in the journals.

The law library and Anderson Library, the University of Houston’s main library, has the Texas House and Senate Journals in print format dating back to the early 1900s.

The full text of the House and Senate journals since 1995 are available on the State Legislature’s Web site. Researchers can search the online versions of the journals for reference to their bills.

3. Committee Hearing Testimony and Floor Debates

The Texas legislature does not produce print transcripts of its committee hearings. Since 1973, the Texas legislature has recorded committee hearings and floor debates on audiotapes. Researchers can order these tapes from the Texas House/Senate media offices.

House Tapes, 63rd Legislature (1973-present)

John H. Reagan Building, Room 330 105 West 15th Street

Austin, Texas 78701

(512) 463-0920  (512) 463-5729 Fax

 

Senate Tapes, 62nd, 4th Called Session (1972) - 76th Legislature (1999)

Texas State Library Reference, Room 300

Lorenzo De Zavala Library and Archives Building, 1201 Brazos Street

Austin, Texas 78701

(512) 463-5455

 

Senate Tapes, 77th (2001) - 79th Legislature (2005) (past three sessions only)

Sam Houston Building, Room 175, 201 East 14th Street

Austin, Texas 78701

(512) 463-0430

 

Since 2001, both houses of the Texas legislature have posted live and archived video taped versions of committee hearings and floor debates on the Internet. These can be accessed through the State Legislature’s Web site at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

 

4. Committee Reports

The committee reports are included in the bill files. They are advisory reports and will make a variety of recommendations including passage of the bill, recommend amendments, or even replace an old version of the bill with a new bill. These reports include the recommendations of the committee regarding the bill, full text of the bill, proposed amendments, bill analysis, and fiscal note. See Section 1, “Bills and Bill Files”, for information about access to the bill files.

5. Bill Analysis

The Bill analysis is a detailed summary of the bill and is arranged in a similar format as the bill itself. These are included in the bill files. See Section 1 for information on bills and bill files.

6. Fiscal Note

This is a statement included in the bill file on the anticipated impact of the proposed legislation on the state’s budget.

7. Impact Statement

An impact statement will be issued and included in the bill file when proposed legislation has an impact on actuarial policy, criminal justice policy, equalized education funding, higher education, imposing court costs on criminal defendants, open government, economic impact, tax/fee equity note, and water development policy.

8. Conference Committee Reports

The conference committee reports are included in the bill files. See Section 1 “Bills and Bill Files” for information about access to the bill files.

9. The General and Special Laws of the State of Texas

The General and Special Laws of the State of Texas series is distributed by West Group. They are located in the library’s Texas Collection at KFT1225.A23.

The General and Special Laws of the State of Texas series is not available on the Internet. However, you can find the text of the bill as it was passed into law by locating the enrolled version of the bill in the bill file on the Texas State legislature’s Web site. The enrolled version of the bill is the version that is published in the General and Special Laws of the State of Texas Series.

10. The Texas Codes and Civil Statutes

After a bill is passed into law, it is incorporated in the Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statues. The Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statutes are available in print in the library in the Vernon’s Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statutes Annotated, Texas Collection KFT 1230 et seq.

The current Texas Codes and Revised Civil Statues are also posted on the Texas State Legislature’s Web site (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/).

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STEPS TO RESEARCHING TEXAS LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Assemble a Texas legislative history by following these steps:

1. Locate the code section in Vernon’s Statutes and Codes. You can also use the Texas Legislature Online’s Web site to access the statutes and codes by clicking “Statutes” from the main page.

2. Locate the chapter number in The General and Special Laws of the Acts of Texas for your code section. The chapter number is posted at the end of the code section. If the code section had been amended, it will have more than one chapter number.

In the example below, the chapter number for the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 46C.151 is Acts of 2005, 79th Legislature, Chapter 831.

Art. 46C.151. DETERMINATION OF SANITY ISSUE BY JURY.  (a)  In a case tried to a jury, the issue of the defendant's sanity shall be submitted to the jury only if the issue is supported by competent evidence.  The jury shall determine the issue. 

(b)  If the issue of the defendant's sanity is submitted to the jury, the jury shall determine and specify in the verdict whether the defendant is guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. 

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 831, Sec. 2, eff. September 1, 2005.

3.  Find the bill number for your chapter using the "Direct Search" feature on the Legislative Reference Library of Texas Web site http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/ by clicking “Legislative Archive System” from the drop-down menu under the “Legislation” tab at the top of the page and then clicking “Direct Search.”  This feature provides the bill number for all laws passed by the Texas State Legislature since 1883. If your law was passed prior to 1883, locate your law in the General and Special Laws of the State of Texas. The original bill number for your bill will be included at the top of the text in the General and Special Laws. Write down the bill number, as you will need it to continue with your legislative history research. In the example above you would simply choose the 79th Legislature (regular session) and enter “831” as the chapter number under “Search by session law chapter” on the “Direct Search” page.

 

4. Using the bill number, locate the various legislative history documents discussed in this guide. The cross reference table will allow you to link directly to the electronic bill file for bills enacted from 1993 until today.

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CONCLUSION

Assembling a legislative history of a Texas law can be a complex process. The good news is that legislative history information for recent laws is widely available, thanks to the Internet. Even for older laws, researchers can assemble a comprehensive history for most laws without leaving Houston. The University of Houston and the Houston Public Library have a great deal of useful information available in their collections.

If you would like help assembling legislative history, please stop by the Reference Desk in the library and the reference librarians will be happy to assist you.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

(a) Books with Information about Texas Legislative History:

 

Simons, Spencer L. Texas Legal Research, Chapter 7: Bill Tracking and Legislative History. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2009 (Reserve KFT 1275.S56 2009).

 

Quarles, Brandon, D. & Cordon, Matthew C. Researching Texas Law, 2nd Ed., Chapter 8: Tracking Bills and Compiling Legislative Histories. Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 2008 (Reserve KFT 1275.Q37 2008).

 

 (b) Web Sites:

 

• Texas State Legislature (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us)

 

• Texas Legislative Reference Library (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us)

 

This guide was drafted by Peter J. Egler and updated by Chris Dykes, Reference/Research Librarian on February 17, 2012.