Legislative history consists of all the documentation produced during the legislative process, including bills, debates, reports and hearings. Researchers look to legislative history when the meaning of a statute is unclear. In so doing, they wish to discern what the legislature intended when enacting the statute. However, legislative history research is time consuming and often futile, in that there may be no discussion at all of the statutory language in question. Therefore, it is usually a last resort when there are no other sources of law (i.e. case law or regulatory law) that interpret the statute. This is commonly the case with recently enacted legislation.
Always check the annotations to case law in one of the annotated versions of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) to find cases that have interpreted your statute. There are two such annotated sets: West’s Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated (6th & 9th flrs. KFI1230 .A473 1992) and Michie’s Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated (9th flr. KFI1230. A462). To be even more thorough, you can also shepardize a statutory provision using the Statutes volumes of Shepard’s Illinois Citations. (9th flr. KFI1259 .S54 2004).
An agency’s interpretation of a statute may also help clarify its meaning. Be sure to check the Illinois Administrative Code (IAC). The Joint Committee of Administrative Rules (JCAR) publishes an electronic version of the IAC. A print version entitled Code of Illinois Rules is on the 9th floor of the Library. (9th flr. KFI1235 .A9 2000+).
Newspaper and journal articles related to the enactment of the law you are researching may also be quite helpful. The explanation of an author who is an expert in the field may be easier to understand than the statutory language itself. Articles from bar journals and law reviews, including the Illinois Bar Journal, CBA Record and Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, can be found by searching these materials full text via Westlaw or Lexis or by using the Legal Resource Index (LRI) also available via Westlaw or Lexis. Wilson’s Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP) indexes CBA Record and Illinois Bar Journal articles and is available via the Library website under “Quick Links”.
Illinois legislative history differs from federal legislative history, in that it consists mostly of the text of the bills and laws themselves and any Illinois House and Senate floor debates that occurred during their passage. There are generally no detailed Committee Reports available and only House hearings are recorded but not transcribed. Typically, one starts by finding the text of the law in the current Illinois Compiled Statutes and the Illinois session laws.
The official publication of the Illinois session laws is entitled the Laws of the State of Illinois and is located on the 9th floor of the Library (9th flr. KFI 1225). This publication dates back to the inception of the State. It contains the text of the laws as first enacted in chronological, public act number order before the laws are codified (arranged by subject into a code). Illinois session laws (also called Public Acts) are also available electronically via Westlaw and Lexis and the ILGA website back to the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998).
Older editions of the codified Illinois Statutes (now known as Illinois Compiled Statutes or ILCS) are also invaluable for tracking the evolution of statutory language.
As mentioned above, most of Illinois legislative history consists of all versions of the bill and any House and Senate floor debates about it. As mandated by the Illinois Constitution of 1970, publication of the debates began in 1971. Transcriptions of the debates were published in microfiche format from the 77th General Assembly (1971-1972) through the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998). House and Senate bills have also been published in fiche since 1979 starting with the 81st General Assembly. Transcripts of the debates from the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998) through the current the G. A. are available on CD ROM.
Transcripts from the current and earlier General Assemblies are now also available via the Illinois General Assembly website (ILGA) back to inception (the 77th General Assembly (1971-1972)). A step-by-step explanation of how to locate the debates via the ILGA website is contained on the Prelimary Steps and Using the ILGA website tabs of this Research Guide.
In addition, if you wish to do thorough legislative history research, you should consult the House and Senate Journals. These Journals constitute an official record of the actions taken by the legislature. The House and Senate Journals contain the voting records for each bill, text of amendments, conference committee reports and motions. These Journals began publication in 1819. The Library’s holdings date back to 1961. They are arranged in date order on the 9th floor. (9th flr. KFI1218 .I34 and KFI1218 .I44). Digital copies are also available via the ILGA website from the 91st G.A. (1999-2000) to current.
The Legislative Synopsis and Digest dates from the 1900s and is also located on the 9th floor of the Library ( KFI1207). The Library’s print holdings date back to 1947. This publication contains summaries of the bills and all actions taken with respect to them. This bill status record is an indispensable tool for tracking the history of a bill before it was enacted into law. The Legislative Synopsis and Digest is published weekly in print. A final annual version is available in fiche. The Library has older editions in microfilm (1879-1987) and fiche (1987-1993). There can be a lag of several years in the print publication of the above titles. However, a digitized version of the Legislative Synopsis and Digest from the 84th G.A. (1985-6) to 2005 can be found by going to the Legislative Reference Bureau website. The University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also provides access to the Legislative Synopsis and Digest.
Lastly, House Committee hearings have been recorded since 1975 and are available on tape from the Office of the Clerk of the House. The House Committee Clerk's office will provide the tapes at a cost of $5.00 per tape. Contact the office at (217)782-8100. Senate Committee Hearings are not taped.
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Fill out a request form and a librarian will get back to you to set up an appointment. We ask that you request your appointment at least 2 days in advance, but remember that you can always stop by the reference desk for immediate help with a quick research question.