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Legislative History in Texas
Legislative History Research Guide
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LEGISLATIVE HISTORY IN TEXAS
The compiling of legislative history of a particular statute is the process of divining the intent of the legislature through the materials produced during the legislative process. The Texas Legislature acknowledges the compiling of legislative history and has codified its importance in section 312.005 of the Texas Government Code which states, "In interpreting a statute, a court shall diligently attempt to ascertain legislative intent and shall consider at all times the old law, the evil, and the remedy." Texas courts have agreed. "When the wording in a statute is ambiguous, we consult statutory construction rules and related legislative history." (City of Dallas v. Cornerstone Bank, N.A., 879 S.W. 2d 264, 270 (Tex. App.-Dallas, 1994).
Section 311.023 of the Texas Government Code states, "In construing a statute, whether or not the statute is considered ambiguous on its face, a court may consider among other matters the: ...(3) legislative history." Tx. Gov't Code § 311.023(3). Courts have also expressed the opinion that "While not controlling or binding, we consider legislative history to determine legislative intent." Lee v. Mitchell, 23 S.W. 3d 209, 213 (Tex. App.-Dallas, 2000).
In Texas there are no pre-packaged legislative histories so the researcher must "re-invent the wheel" each time. However, there are only a few types of materials available to compose a legislative history in Texas.
The "primary" legislative sources that must be used include:
There are also "secondary" sources that are discussed further below.
This article provides a quick look at these sources, what they are, and where they can be found.
From Statutes to Session Laws
Vernon's Texas Codes and Vernon's Texas Statutes (hereinafter "Vernon's") together contain only the laws currently in effect at the time of its printing, grouped by subject. However, the General and Special Laws of the State of Texas (hereinafter "General and Special Laws"), contains the law as it was written by the Legislature, grouped in chronological order as laws were passed during each legislative session. The General and Special Laws include all the laws passed by the Legislature, including Joint and Concurrent Resolutions and "Special" laws that pertain only to particular people and places. Neither Resolutions nor "Special" laws are included in Vernon's.
When doing a legislative history the researcher will utilize the Statutory and Historical notes compiled at the end of each statute in Vernon's. The statutory history lists the year of action taken, the legislature, the page in the General and Special Laws where the law appears, the chapter in which it appears, and the effective date. Below is an example of such a citation:
"Acts 1977, 65th Leg., p. 2039, ch. 817, Part 1, eff. Aug. 29, 1977"
From this information one can find the bill number either in the correct General and Special Laws volume. Since the 47th Legislature it is also possible to find the session law number of a code or statute by using the Session Law Cross Reference Tables available at the Legislative Reference Library website (www.lrl.state.tx.us) under the "Legislative Information" link. The page number corresponds to the page number in the General and Special Laws volume that also provides the bill number. Volumes of the General and Special Laws are kept in major academic law libraries and large public libraries such as those in Houston and Dallas.
The Bill File
The bill number leads to the "Bill File" of the Texas Legislature. The Bill File is where all the documentation for a particular bill is kept. A Bill File may contain some or all of the following: the introduced version of the bill, House or Senate committee report with bill analysis, the engrossed version of bill, House or Senate amendment printing, conference committee report, enrolled version of the bill, and fiscal notes. The Bill File reveals amendments to the bill created through the legislative process including hand written annotations by committee members and the committees' version of the bill.
Bill files from the 74th Legislature (1995) through the present are available on-line at the Texas Legislature On-line website (www.capitol.state.tx.us). Except for conference committee reports, complete Bill Files are available and are searchable by subject, author, committee, keyword, or a combination. The online system also provides a complete bill history including references to House and Senate Journal entries and links to companion bills, identical bills filed in the other chamber.
Bill Files from the 72nd (1991-1992) to the 74th (1995) are available on the Legislative Reference Library's "Optical System," a database which contains scanned images of the complete text of these Bill Files. This system is searchable by year, session, bill type, and bill number. This system is exclusively located in the Legislative Reference Library and can only be used on site.
Complete Bill Files for bills from the 63rd to the 70th Legislatures are available at the Legislative Reference Library on microfilm. Bills from the 1st Legislature (1846) to the 62nd (1971) are available in the Texas State Archive Building (See address below).
The 71st is the "Lost Legislature." The bill files for the 71st can only be viewed in their original form at the Legislative Reference Library satellite location at the Robert E. Johnson, Jr. (REJ) office building located at 1501 N. Congress Ave., Austin, Texas. All Bill Files from the 63rd Legislature forward are stored at the REJ building. These files are the original bills and can only be viewed with a prior appointment made through the Legislative Reference Library. Copies can be made of the Bill Files and certification is available for $5.00.
Both the House and the Senate produce Journals while they are in session. The Journals do not contain verbatim speeches and remarks from the floor of the legislature, but instead provide a listing of events that took place on the floor of each chamber during the life of a bill, but not the events that took place in committee. The Journals contain referrals to committees including conference committees, authorization of co-sponsors, all floor amendments to bills, records of votes taken on the chamber floor, and since the 73rd Legislature "Statements of Legislative Intent."
The Journals also include messages from the other chamber and from the Governor indicating, for instance, when a bill has passed in one chamber or when a bill is signed into law. The Journals are indexed by author and subject of the bill. The index then refers to a page that provides the bill number, the title, author, sponsor, a list of floor actions and the page on which each action can be found. From here a researcher can more closely examine the floor actions regarding a particular bill. Remember, a bill passed in one chamber will travel to the other chamber and there will be a corresponding series of actions listed in that chamber's journal.
Prior to the 63rd Legislature the only way to assemble a bill history was through the use of the Journals. Since the 63rd Legislature the Legislative Reference Library has compiled bill histories. At the end of each session the library has bound the information into House and Senate Bill Histories and made them available at the Legislative Reference Library. Complete bill histories for the 74th Legislature to the present can be accessed from the Texas Legislature Online website (www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo/billnbr.htm). Bill histories bring together all the events regarding each bill. The information they provide on a bill includes author, sponsor, subjects, committees involved, action taken on a chamber floor or in committee, which chamber the action was taken and the date a particular action was taken. Most importantly the Bill Histories list when committees held hearings on the bill. With the bill number, name of the committee, and the date when hearings were held the researcher is able to access the tapes of committee hearings.
It is important to note that the Journal page numbers given in the printed Bill History volumes are incorrect. The Journals are repaginated when they are bound at the end of the legislative session, which is after the Bill History volumes are compiled.
The Bill History set also contains volumes which arrange bills in numerical order, and also indexes bills by subject and author. These are excellent sources for surveying all the bills concerning a particular subject or all the bills a particular legislator authored.
Since 1999 the Texas Legislature has archived digital video recordings of chamber sessions and public committee hearings. Using Real Player over the Internet, researchers can watch the recordings. If the legislature is in session the public can watch the events live. These audio/visual files are found on the websites of each chamber and are available from the "Video Broadcasts" links on the Texas Legislature Online (www.capitol.state.tx.us/). It is possible to use the minutes of a meeting to better locate a particular discussion on these digital files.
Since the 63rd Legislature all committees which hold public hearings are taped. Each chamber keeps its own tapes. In addition, floor debates and interim committee hearings are taped. Committees have been videotaped since 1997 and the floor has been videotaped since 1981.
All House tapes are housed in Room 785 of the Sam Houston Building located at 201 E. 14th St., Austin, TX 78701, telephone number (512) 463-0920. Requests can also be made by fax at (512) 463-5729. Tapes cost $5.00 to be copied and come with a tape log and outline of the minutes of the meeting so that the listener can determine who is speaking. Senate tapes are kept in two different locations. Tapes from the 63rd to the 73rd Legislature are kept in the Texas State Library; Room 300, Lorenzo De Zavala Library & Archives, 1201 Brazos St., Austin, TX 78701, telephone number (512) 463-5455. Tapes cost $1.00 to be copied. The bill number, committee, and date are indicated on the tape, except for tapes from the 74th Legislature. Tapes from the current and two previous legislatures are located in Room 175 of the Sam Houston Building (See address above), telephone number (512) 463-0430. Tapes cost $5.00 to be copied and they provide copies of minutes for $.25 per page. However, minutes from each Senate committee are bound and housed at the Legislative Reference Library where self-service copies can be made for $.20.
In general the tapes are not transcribed. Transcripts are occasionally available if someone has had the tapes transcribed and donated a copy of the transcription to the agency which handles the tapes. In the case of tapes of floor sessions, the tapes include 2nd and 3rd readings of legislation as well as debate.
The most important "secondary sources" are the Daily Floor Reports (Called HRO Reports). They are compiled by the House Research Organization (HRO), an administrative department of the Texas House of Representatives. The HRO analyzes all legislation coming before the House except local and consent bills. The analysis provides a digest of the bill's background, committee votes, and arguments regarding its passage. These reports are produced each day during the session and are available in the Legislative Reference Library back to the 65th Legislature (1977) or on the HRO's website (www.capitol.state.tx.us/hrofr/hrofr.htm) in pdf format from the 74th Legislature (1995) to the present. To access the Daily Floor Reports the researcher needs the bill number or the date the bill came to the floor for its second reading. The HRO report is an analysis of the bill as it appears on its second reading, and not necessarily an analysis of the final version of the bill. The House Research Organization also publishes more in-depth analysis of issues coming before the legislature.
Legislative history can also be found in the Reviser's Notes. These are notes made during the continuing process of statutory codification going on in Texas. The Reviser's Notes are available at the Legislative Reference Library.
Between meetings of the session there are meetings of several standing interim committees that study issues assigned to them during the preceding session. These committees produce Interim Reports that form the basis for much legislation in the upcoming session. These reports are available at the Legislative Reference Library and through the Texas State Library.
Besides interim reports the Legislature may appoint a special committee to analyze important issues. These special commissions are important, and are sometimes cited as part of the legislative history and are available at the Legislative Reference Library.
Agency publications are also a valuable source of background material. Agencies produce a variety of reports, magazines, and newsletters on topics of concern to their agency and which may be discussed in future sessions. All of these publications can be requested directly from the appropriate agency.
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