Legislative Intent

New York State Legislative Intent

Legislative intent, also referred to as legislative history or legislative purpose, is a relatively recent tool in statutory construction. Loosely defined as "the documents that contain the information considered by the legislature prior to reaching its decision to enact a law, the legislative history of a statute is consulted in order to better understand the reasons for the enactment of a statute. Since an act of the legislature is not always drafted with the most precise language, courts look to the intrinsic aids in determining the intent of a legislative body." (Jacobstein and Mersky, Fundamentals of Legal Research, 1977.) Studying the background and events that led to a bill's passage, as well as the social, economic, and political climate of the period may also be helpful in determining legislative intent.

Researching New York State Legislative Intent

New York State has no single source of legislative intent comparable to the Federal government's U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News. Instead, researching legislative intent in New York involves original research of documentary records. In many instances, extrinsic aids for determining legislative intent do not exist.

An excellent overview of the research process for New York State Legislative intent is provided by Robert Allan Carter's Legislative Intent in New York State: Materials, Cases, and Annotated Bibliography (Second Edition, 2001). This document is available online in PDF, onsite at the NYS Library and through interlibrary loan.

Major Sources of Legislative Intent

Documentation on legislative intent may exist in the form of a sponsor's memo, the Governor's approval message, memoranda from State agencies and legislators, and comments or reports from legislative committees, commissions, bar associations, and lobbying groups. These may be contained in:

  • Bill jackets, 1905 and 1921+
  • Veto jackets, 1905 and 1926+
  • Governor's public papers, press releases, and correspondence
  • New York State Legislative Annual, 1946+
  • Legislative debates (Assembly, 1973+, Senate, 1960+)
  • Legislative reports of joint, select, standing, and temporary legislative committees or commissions
  • Administrative opinions of departments, including those of the Attorney General, the State Comptroller, the Commissioner of Education and then Chairman of the Board of Equalization and Assessment
  • Newspapers, particularly the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal
  • Law journals like the New York Law Journal as well as publications of the various bar associations

While the State Library has many of the sources for compiling the history of legislative intent, some are only available through the State Archives and Records Administration, the Governor's Office, or the Legislature.

Indexes to Sources of Legislative Intent

  • Index of Economic Material in Documents of the States of the United States: New York 1789-1904
  • McKinney's Session Laws (Note section)
  • Annotated List and Indexes of New York State Legislative Document Series, 1919-1976
  • New York Legislative Record and Index, 1907-1984
  • Legislative Digest, 1984+
  • Annotated List and Indexes of Reports of New York State Governors' Commissions and Task Forces, 1925-1985
  • Cumulative Index to Joint Legislative Committees and Selected Temporary State Commissions and Alphabetical List of Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Thereof, 1900-1950 and supplement, 1951-1965
  • Checklist of Official Publications of the State of New York, 1947+

Reference Services

Reference librarians will compile legislative histories for New York State agencies and members of the Legislature and will provide guidance to other researchers.

Last Updated: January 16, 2013