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