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Researching Texas Law: Legislative History

Provides guidance in locating the legislative history of Texas bills and statutes.

Introduction to Texas Legislative History

What is legislative history?

The legislative history of a statute encompasses every official action the Texas Legislature took regarding that statute. Texas does not create official legislative histories, so researchers must compile them themselves or hire a private legislative intent research firm to do so on their behalf.

A legislative history usually starts with the introduction of the bill that first created a statute and includes any bill introduced in later Legislatures that amended or repealed the statute. All legislative materials that were created in response to any of these bills are part of the resultant statute's legislative history. Depending on the age of the bill, this may include some or all of the following materials: all versions of the bill, committee reports, committee vote sheets, floor amendments, bill analyses, fiscal notes, actions reported in the House and Senate journals, statements made in committee hearings and during floor debates, audiovisual recordings of hearings and floor action, and materials related to companion bills.

What is legislative intent?

"Legislative intent" is the term used to cover all aspects of why the Legislature enacted a particular statute - what it was intended to accomplish, whether there was a specific problem they were trying to solve, to whom it was meant to apply, and similar information that isn't apparent from the plain language of the statute, but can nevertheless be critically important when attempting to interpret a law.

"Legislative history" and "legislative intent" are often used interchangeably, but determining intent requires more detailed research. In addition to the basic legislative history, intent research often includes materials produced outside of the legislative process. These can be historical materials such as newspaper articles that quote a bill's author or discuss a situation that inspired a bill; oral histories or interviews with persons involved in the bill's creation; or secondary sources such as law review articles, bar materials, or treatises.

What do I need to know before starting my legislative history research?

For the most common kind of legislative history - figuring out when language was added to a statute - all you need to know is the statutory citation. From there you can easily look up its history, including citations to the enacting bill and later amendments, in the official statutes. Once you have that information, you can use the Texas Legislative Reference Library's Legislative Archive System to look up those citations and begin your research. See the Compiling a Legislative History tab for more details.

More complicated legislative history and legislative intent research may require more information. If you need to do a legislative history on a topic, but don't have a specific statute, please contact a reference librarian for assistance.

How detailed does my legislative history or legislative intent research have to be?

That depends on what you're looking for. If you only need to know when a certain phrase was added to a law, you can stop once you find the bill that added that language. If you're doing something more comprehensive, such as tracing the evolution of certain provisions over time, you may need to look at the enacting bill and all later amendments. In rare cases, you will want to look at any bills that would have amended a particular statute, even if they did not pass. This is mainly necessary when doing historical research on how the Legislature has handled a particular topic.

Do I have to do this all myself? Can the Library help me?

The Library is happy to help with legislative history questions. In fact, due to the complex and technical nature of legislative materials, we encourage patrons to contact the Library for help rather than try to do it all on their own. We can do anything from giving you the basic information and letting you take it from there, to guiding you step-by-step through the research. If you'd rather explore the process yourself, we highly recommend taking some time to go through the Legislative Reference Library's Guide to Researching Legislative History and Intent - it will familiarize you with all of the basic materials.