One of the most daunting forms of legal research is legislative history. What does it even mean, you ask? A legislative history is a way to collect documents that are produced by Congress as a bill is introduced, studied, and debated.

That collection of documents can really spiral out of control and be very confusing as you may guess! Some of these bills are enormous and require multiple amendments, readings, changes, votes and much more.

My first recommendation when you are about to conduct a legislative history? Come talk to a Reference Librarian! These are often very complicated questions that really scream out for a professional positioning before you dive in.

My second suggestion? Check out the resources that Law Librarians have already created for you! We have two amazing research guides that will help orient you as you begin to pull together various documents, one for Federal research and Wisconsin research.

That's right - each jurisdiction has different ways of compiling these documents and therefore there are at least 51 different ways to create a legislative history. Good news though...the Federal Guide we have gives you a great headstart on the largest legislative histories. The guide, located at this link, provides you with a snapshot of the federal legislative process, the documents that they create, links to existing legislative histories, and much more.

While the resources linked on the Compiled Legislative History tab are all amazing, there is one that I want to shout out: Proquest Legislative Insight. Proquest has an enormous database of federal documents going back to the 1700s and the Legislative Insight database organizes all these documents into handy pages that revolve around particular bills, acts and laws. This is the definitive first stop for federal legislative histories - if you have a project involving a major federal law, the odds are a history has already been compiled for you! Whew, what a relief when that happens.

So, you have the Federal legislative histories covered...what about Wisconsin? We've got you. Here is a guide focused just on Wisconsin laws, bills, and acts. We are actually quite fortunate to be attending law school in Wisconsin (for many reasons), since we have so much of the documentation available online, especially for the past 25ish years. While state legislative histories will require more legwork to compile materials, we can pull most of the documents from the Wisconsin Legislative website.

My favorite part of the Wisconsin legislative history guide is the chart below. It lays out as simply as possible the process for a bill to become a law in Wisconsin. It's a great start to understanding the law-making process here in the Badger State.

Wisconsin Legislative Process

Lastly, if you are looking to compile a legislative history for another non-Federal and non-Wisconsin jurisdiction, I'll say again - come talk to a Reference Librarian! If nothing else, we can get you pointed in the right direction. To get started, here is a great guide from the IU Law Library that shows you various online sources that highlight how to create state-level legislative histories.

This brief post should get you started on the road to legislative history success! But to complete the journey, please make sure you make a pitstop at the Reference Desk along the way.

Submitted by Kristopher Turner on October 20, 2021

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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