This tutorial was prepared by librarians at the State Library as a guide for anyone seeking to compile a legislative history of a New York State law. It provides a summary of appropriate reference sources and materials, most of which are available at the State Library. These materials, except for fragile items, may be photocopied for a fee. Items that the Library allows to circulate may be loaned to those with borrowing privileges at this Library or may be borrowed through interlibrary loan. The reference librarians will provide assistance in any aspect of this tutorial.
For more information on legislative history and New York State Library services, see the Legislative Intent page, or contact:
New York State Library
Cultural Education Center
Albany, NY 12230
Phone: (518) 474-5355
Fax: (518) 474-5786
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The Basic Steps (Steps 1-5) explain how to locate the Governor's bill jacket and sponsors' memoranda. Although a legislative history starts with a bill jacket, there are qualifications. "While sometimes limited or even useless, bill jackets are nevertheless important, since they often contain the only available material on legislative intent. They are especially important when only one or two sections of a particular law are amended or added, and conversely, become less helpful in regard to extensive revisions" (Carter, Legislative Intent in New York State, p.9). Begin your search by determining the session law citation, that is, the year and chapter number of the law. McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York contains the session law citation. McKinney's provides annotations to each article of the law, for example, "Historical Note" and "Library References", which are useful for compiling a legislative history and in understanding the law and its applications.
The Intermediate Steps (Steps 6-8) explain how to collect a wide range of material needed for a comprehensive legislative history of the law. The Session Laws record changes in wording of the original law by later amendments. McKinney's Session Laws includes the texts of executive, legislative and judicial memoranda. The Legislative Digest lists committee actions. Any New York State documents relating to your law should be identified.
The Advanced Steps (Steps 9-12) explain approaches for finding scholarly studies of a law. Such studies involve searching legal periodicals and newspapers, collecting material from bar associations, obtaining Legislative hearings and debates, and finding relevant records and briefs.
Carter, Robert Allan. Legislative Intent in New York State; Cases, and Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed. (Albany: The University of the State of New York, 2001). 34pp. D, LIB 460-4 LEGIN, 81-71478 2001. Also available online through the Library's online catalog.
We have two sets of annotated New York State statutes:
These annotations are useful in compiling a legislative history. They indicate the derivation of the law from prior law, its effective date, and its subsequent amendment. Sometimes they include a note, "Legislative Histories." If these annotations appear incomplete, it may be necessary to go back through the superseded volumes. Previous editions of McKinney's are stored near the Reference Area and are retrieved by staff at the Reference desk.
Check all the amendments to your law to see if your particular subject matter, for example, the definition of a word in the law, is contained among them. The original bills for amendments should be reviewed for changes and compromises in wording.
Annotations of the Consolidated Laws are described in the "Explanation" preface, and may include the following:
The Governor's Counsel's Office maintains files for bills passed both by the Senate and the Assembly, and awaiting the Governor's approval or disapproval. A file consists of a copy of the bill and of material submitted to the Governor's Office, which may be for or against the bill. In particular, the file may contain sponsors' memoranda, commission and agency position statements, and study group comments. Also, it may contain the views of bar associations, lobbyists, and concerned organizations and individuals. These files almost never contain committee or commission reports, or transcripts of debates and hearings of testimony. However, they are useful for finding any references to reports of committees, task forces, or other groups named in memoranda or correspondence.
After the Governor has signed a bill into law, or vetoed it, this material becomes available to the public as a bill or veto jacket.
There are three types of bill jackets:
Request bill jackets from this Library by giving the year of passage and the chapter number. For example, "Bill jacket, 1980 chap 301."
The Library has a collection of bill jackets on microform or CD-ROM, with a three to four year lag. Our holdings include:
Selected bill jackets have been digitized and are available via the NYS Library Digital Collections.
Request bill jackets at the Circulation Desk, or through interlibrary loan at your library. Telephone service: call the Reference Desk at (518) 474-5355.
The Archives retains the original bill jackets, holding 1905, 1921-2019. Bill jackets from 1995 to one year prior to the current year are available from the New York State Archives electronically on the Archives Digital Collections page. Contact the Archives directly at 518-474-8955 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Governor's Counsel's Office keeps bill jackets for the current session. Telephone service: (518) 474-7182.
The New York Public Library has the same holdings as the New York State Library. Telephone service: (212) 592-7082.
The State University of New York at Buffalo Charles B. Sears Law Library has the same holdings as the New York State Library. Telephone service: (716) 645-2047.
Request microfilm copies of veto jackets from this Library by year and either the Bill Introduction Number (1926-1963) or Veto Number (1964-current year).
Veto jackets are also available from the Archives electronically from 1995 to one year prior to the current year on the Archives Digital Collections page.
The sponsor's memorandum and the Governor's approval memorandum, also in the bill jacket, have been reprinted in The New York State Legislative Annual (New York: New York Legislative Service, Inc.). This set, 1946 to current, files at R, 328.747 N555. The Legislative Annual is "a compilation of Sponsor's Memoranda for all Chapter Laws of the given year... When no such memorandum is obtainable, the New York Legislative Service strives to present the most relevant material of this nature" (p. iv, 1995 ed.).
The "Main Index" of the Legislative Annual is an alphabetical list by subject and by the section of the Chapter Law. This index is followed by a "Governor's Veto Memoranda Index" and a "Governor's Approval Memoranda Number Index."
The footnotes to the memoranda may refer to reports from commissions, task forces, and other groups interested in this law. This material is available variously from this Library, the State Archives and the New York Legislative Service.
Legislators who sponsor bills often provide a memorandum giving their justifications for introducing the bill. As mentioned in previous steps these memoranda are included in the bill jackets and in The New York State Legislative Annual. These memoranda can be found in McKinney's Session Laws (1951 to current), interfiled with Laws of New York in the "Law/NYS" collection. Recent editions refer to the sponsor's memorandum as "Memorandum in Support, New York Senate" (or Assembly). Also check the Public Papers of the Governors series.
The Library has a collection of these memoranda on microfiche:
New York State Senate and Assembly Sponsor's Memoranda. 1983-1990, 1997-2002 (as of 9/07). MA/FF, LEG 481-2 ASSM 87-001170 (or LEG 795.8-3 SENSM 87-001171). Files in Microform Area.
Sponsors' memoranda are also available for many bills in the Legislative Retrieval System, which is available at any Internet computer in the Computer/Internet Sign-Up area at the Library. Search by bill number or keyword.
Session laws are the laws of each annual session of the Legislature. In New York State new laws are called chapter laws, as federal laws are called public laws. Thus cite by year and chapter number.
Three consolidations of New York State session laws:
The McKinney's and CLS session laws contain memoranda of the Legislature and the Governor, as well as the reports of the Chief Administrator of the Courts and the Law Revision Commission.
Recent amendments to a session law:
Since some laws have been amended, it may be necessary to refer to an earlier version mentioned in the Historical Notes of the Consolidated Laws. The time when a specific word or phrase was first used can be determined, which will establish a specific time period for checking other sources of legislative history. So session laws are important in determining legislative intent because they indicate what words were added and what words were taken out. It may be necessary to consult all the session laws listed in the amendments to the consolidated laws, because it is often impossible to determine which session laws are pertinent to your history by simply examining the current consolidated laws.
A complete history of each bill introduced in the Legislature is found in the following indexes:
The Legislative Digest is a sequential arrangement of Senate and Assembly bill summaries. It includes dates of legislative action for each bill, and the names of the Committees to which the bill was referred. The Governor's approval and veto messages are printed in full. Proposed bills and enacted laws are listed under the appropriate sections in the consolidated laws, if applicable. A list of bills sponsored by each Legislator is recorded. A table of laws amended or repealed , and cross reference tables by chapter number and bill number are provided.
If your legislative history involves a relatively recent bill or statute, there are additional sources of information besides The Legislative Digest:
Since its establishment in 1818 the State Library has been a repository for the official publications of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, commissions, public authorities, and other agencies of the State government.
B. Governor's Office.
C. State Agencies.
State agencies present reports, sometimes in the form of annual reports, to the Legislature, in which they may discuss proposed legislation, or comment on existing laws. Agencies often prepare bills they want introduced. They may oppose a specific bill, or criticize a federal mandate.
State agencies usually are advised by legal counsels. Their counsels issue opinions on the law, and may comment on proposed legislation. These opinions are recognized as primary sources for legislative history by their rendering of legal interpretation of a law.
Web-site. Current publications, such as annual reports, are often listed on State agencies' web-sites. State agencies' home pages can be reached from the Agencies page on the official NYS web site.
State Library online catalog. State agency reports in the Library's collection can be searched in its catalog.
Standing committees and sub-committees of the Legislature occasionally issue reports on specific topics. These reports are difficult to locate because there are few finding aids.
Joint legislative committees and temporary commissions issue annual reports, usually held by this library. Their additional reports may be published separately. Also these reports are included in the following document series.
Indexes: Annotated Lists and Indexes of the New York State Assembly and Senate Document Series, 1831- 1918 (Albany: The University of the State of New York, 3 vols., 1992). Compiled by Robert Allan Carter. Volume I, Part 1- Assembly Separate Documents. Volume II, Part 2- Senate Separate Documents. Volume III, Parts 3- 11, Indexes, Minor and Annual Reports. R, LIB 460-4 ANNLI 86-11287.
Indexes. Annotated List and Indexes of the New York State Legislative Document Series, 1919- 1976 (Albany: The University of the State of New York, 7 vols., 1986). Compiled by Robert Allan Carter. Volume I, Reports of Temporary Commissions, Joint Legislative Committees, Governor's Messages, etc., 1919-1935. Volume II, 1936-1948. Volume III, 1949-1960. Volume IV, 1961-1976. Volume V, Subject Index. Volume VI, Index by Key Word/ Index by Chairpersons. Volume VII, Annual Reports of Permanent State Agencies, the Legislature and the Courts, and Annual Message of the Governor/ Annual Reports of Public Authorities, Semi-Official State Agencies, State and Private Institutions, Schools and Private Organizations. R, LIB 460-4 ANNLI 86-11287.
Note: These indexes by Carter include the material in Cumulative Index to Joint Legislative Committees and Selected Temporary State Commissions and Alphabetical List of Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Thereof, 1900-1950 (Albany: The University of the State of New York, rev. ed., 1966). Prepared by William S. King, Secretary of the Senate. Bound with 1951-1965 Supplement. R, LEG 795.8-4 CUMIJ 1302385.
The State judiciary and members of the legal profession have been able to recommend changes in State laws and court procedures by participating in two advisory bodies: the Judicial Conference and the Law Revision Commission.
These Annual Reports up to 1976 are included in the Legislative Documents series. Reports included in the Annual Reports and also Judicial Memoranda are published in McKinney's Session Laws of New York (annual), files at LAW/NY. Reports are also published in New York Consolidated Laws Service (annual), at LAW/NY.
A legislative committee may hold public hearings on bills before it, although such hearings are not required. Transcripts of hearings are generally difficult to obtain. A copy of a hearing is available only if the committee tapes or transcribes it, and sends this copy to the Legislative Library, the State Library, or the State Archives.
Microfiche Collection: 1980-1989, 1995, 1997 (as of 9/07). Hearings are filed by date in the Microform Area, MA, 348.74701 qN532 91-27872. The Legislative Library intends to film the hearings in five year batches, and will probably provide a copy to the State Library.
These collections of debates are untranscribed tapes of the session. Order debates by bill number and date passed.
NYS Assembly Public Information Office (518) 455-4218
Room 202, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
NYS Senate Communications Office (518) 455-2264
Room 416, State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
NYS Senate Microfilm and Records Room (518) 455-3200
Room 500GA, State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
Scholarly studies of New York State laws are published in law reviews and monographs. Newspapers, like The New York Times, cover the political, social, economic and legal aspects of society. Observations of editors and columnists may be useful in providing background information on State legislation.
NOTE: To find where a law journal is indexed consult Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory (New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, annual). RR, 016.05 qP44.
Legal articles may be found in a wide variety of the State Library’s databases, such as Academic OneFile, JSTOR, and Science Direct, as well as in Google Scholar.
Bar associations may propose legislation, supported by explanatory memoranda, recommendations, and reports. Such material is sometimes included in bill jackets. Reports may be issued regularly in association newsletters, journals, and report series. They supply commentary on legislation by setting up committees of expert lawyers. Use the Library's online catalog to find these reports listed by subject or author.
The Library has publications from the following:
Telephone: (518) 463-3200
Telephone: (212) 382-6600
Telephone: (212) 267-6646
Decisions of appealed cases at the level of appellate courts, which involve difficult interpretations of the law, occasionally provide material useful in compiling a legislative history. See a section "Legislative Background" in the reports of these courts.
Specific court cases especially illustrating a law are found in the case notes often following sections of the consolidated law. See "Notes of Decisions" in McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York and New York Consolidated Laws Service (CLS). Also, the following references may provide examples of court cases involving your law:
Parties in a lawsuit have avenues for appealing a decision to an appellate court. In New York these courts are the Supreme Court Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals. The historical development of these courts from British colonial courts is described in Guide to Records in the New York Archives (Albany: The University of the State of New York, 1993), pp. 387-398.
Cases considered by the Supreme Court Appellate Division are reported in Appellate Division Reports; those considered by the Court of Appeals are reported in New York Reports. The official citation of a case refers to these volumes. For example, "50 AD2d 211" indicates volume 50 of the Appellate Division Reports, second series, beginning on p. 211. "26 NY2d 478" indicates volume 26, second series, of New York Reports. Several volumes are published in a calendar year.
To translate names of parties in a lawsuit to the corresponding official citation, use the "Table of Cases" in West's New York Digest, LAW/NYS. The Library has digests from 1794 under various titles.
The Library has the following appellate reports:
For a list of Law Libraries in the State holding records and briefs see: