Updated Nov. 1, 2010.
Prepared by Peggy Jarrett & Cheryl Nyberg.
Washington State legislative history is generally available from the mid-1970s forward, although some earlier history may be available. Researchers need to gather all the pieces that make up a legislative history by starting at a library that collects legislative publications, and then if need be, contacting the State Archives for copies of the bill file.
If the legislation was passed in the last two years, researchers need to contact the Committees that reported on the bill, and if a cassette tape of floor debate is needed, contact the House and Senate Journal Clerks. Some recent legislative history documents are available on the Internet or in fee-based databases.
When researching a legislative history, it is particularly important to know when to stop. It is often the case that the more time spent and the farther afield ventured, the lower the rate of return.
For more complete information, consult Chapter 6, Legislative History, Initiatives, and Bill Tracking, in the Washington Legal Researcher's Deskbook 3d. KFW75.W37 2002 at Reference Area & Reference Office.
- the Gallagher guide on Researching Washington Historical Laws and the legislative history checklist (Word) for reminders on sources to consult and for note-taking
- the Legislature's Glossary of Legislative Terms
Internet-based research is possible only for bills considered and enacted since 1997.
- Start with a section of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).
- If you have the RCW citation, retrieve a copy by using the Washington Legislature's page on the Revised Code of Washington.
- If you do not know the RCW citation, search the RCW on LegalWa.org.
- Record the session law citations found in brackets at the end of the section of particular interest.
- Find the appropriate year at the Washington Legislature's
Bill Information page.
- Note that the Bill Information page features the current biennium. Tabs provide access to bill information pages for the two previous biennia.
- Click on the Detailed Legislative Reports link to find historical bill information back to 1991.
- Use the Help with Abbreviations page to decipher cryptic notes.
- Click on the Bill/RCW/Session Law Cross Reference link.
- Use either the RCW to Bill or the Session Law to Bill tab.
- Record the bill number and its house of origin (H for House or S for Senate).
- Return to the Bill Information page and search by bill number.
- Review, print, or download documents associated with that
- Committee reports are often the most useful type of document. Look for fbr, hbr, or sbr; these abbreviations are used to designate bill reports.
- History notes the action of a bill through the legislative process, a chronology.
- Bill text and amendments show how the bill was changed during the legislative process.
- Because older House and Senate Journals are
not available online you may need to visit a
library that has Journals before 1993.
- The Journals include information not found
in online sources:
- point of inquiry: question and answer about a particular bill
- references to floor debate: needed to request audiotape from House or Senate Journal clerks.
- The Journals include information not found in online sources:
LexisNexis and Westlaw provide access to much of the same information found for free at the Washington Legislature's website. The following table identifies the type of documents used in Washington State legislative history research and where these documents may be found in online.
1. Audio is free; videotapes are available for purchase.
2. A CD-ROM of the final House and Senate Journals for the 2005 session are available. KFW.18.2W33 2005 at Reference Area. The data is in large Portable Document Format files.
3. Veto messages are included in the Session laws.
4. LEGLink, a fee-based service of the Washington State Legislature, was discontinued at the end of the 2005 legislative session. Content available as "Detailed Legislative Reports" includes bill summaries, texts, roll call votes, bill status, companion bills, bill tracking, floor activity, reports, and indexes.