Finding California Legislative History


Before diving into a search for legislative intent material, see Cal. Jur. 3d, Statutes, Sections 110-127 "Application of General Rules of Construction." (South Reading Room, KFC80 .C3 1972)  This will give you a good foundation and understanding of statutory construction in California.

Legislative history material is not published as consistently in California as at the federal level. Committee hearings on bills are not usually transcribed and reports on bills are rarely prepared. There is no written record of debate. That being said, there are some sources which can provide clues to the legislative history and intent of a California statute. Most important among these are the various versions of a bill. Each version of a bill shows the additions and deletions made to the text as the bill made its way through the legislature. The short digest by the Legislative Counsel at the beginning of each bill can also be useful. Some bills expressly include a statement of intent as part of the bill itself, although these "findings" may not appear in the code. For these reasons, be sure to consult the bills as part of your search for legislative history. The following steps include other sources which you may wish to pursue.

  1. Check the annotations after the code section.

    More recent legislation especially, may provide cites to Law Review articles, Legislative Counsel opinions which are printed in Senate and Assembly Journals (Stacks, KFC5), and indexed in the Journal under the heading "Legislative Counsel", Law Revision Commission Reports (Stacks, KFC27 .A3), and Attorney General Opinions (Stacks, KFC780 .A55). Also, see if there are any historical notes, references to other code sections, or cites to law review articles and notes of decisions. BE SURE TO CHECK BOTH DEERING AND WEST; their annotations are not the same. Check Westlaw and Lexis as there may be added material online. See a reference librarian if you have questions about how to locate any of the materials mentioned in the annotations to the code section.

    Where do I find all this?

    • West's Annotated California Codes, KFC30.5 .W4, Reference and Reserves
    • Deering's California Codes Annotated, KFC30.5 .D4, Reserves
    • Westlaw (password required): California tab, find by citation ("find using a template" can be useful)
    • Westlaw (A version of Westlaw providing access to California law only is available on the public access terminals in the library without a password)
    • LexisNexis Academic (available without a password): Click on "U.S. Legal" on left navigation bar; State Statutes; Select California from State: pulldown menu.
    • Lexis (password required): Get a document tab, find by citation ("citation formats" can be useful)
  2. Shepardize or KeyCite the code section.

    Appellate cases and law review articles may provide further clues to legislative history materials. In addition, you may find other law review articles using this method that were not identified in the annotations to the code section. Finally, if you have Westlaw access, KeyCite will pull together a list of Senate and Assembly bill analysis reports and entries in Senate and Assembly journals related to the enacting bill and any amendments.

    How do I do this?

    • Shepard's California Citations (Stacks, KFC59 .S44). Please ask a reference librarian if you are not familiar with how to use Shepard's.
    • Lexis (password required): Shepard's tab, ("citation formats" can be useful)
    • LexisNexis Academic (available without a passwork):Click on "Legal" tab then on "Shepards" link.
    • Westlaw (password required): KeyCite this citation, (enter, e.g., "ca penal code 645")
    • KeyCite (standalone): The KeyCite service is available through Westlaw on two public access terminals, without a Westlaw password, for KeyCite reports and California law only (no access to Westlaw's other databases is provided without a Westlaw password). Look for the Westlaw link at the top of the screen of the two terminals in the Library lobby.
  3. Find the bill number and year.

    For more recent code sections, the bill number will be in parentheses after the citation to the Statutes and Amendment to the Codes (session laws). Look for this information in the historical note following the code section—e.g.,

    Stats. 1992 c. 162 (AB 2650)

    If the bill number does not appear in the historical note, consult either the Table of Laws Enacted which is in the first volume for each year of Statutes and Amendments to the Codes, (South Reading Room, KFC25 .A24) or the Summary Digest shelved at the end of the Bills for each year (Stacks, KFC5). To convert chapter to bill number for more recent legislation, use Deering's or West's Legislative Service (shelved at the end of the codes in the Reserves area).

The Bill

  1. Read the original statute as it appears in Statutes and Amendments to the Codes
    • Print (South Reading Room, KFC25 .A24)
    • Online at the Clerk of the Assembly's website
    • Where there is no bound volume of the Statutes, look in Deering's or West's Legislative Service (shelved at the end of the codes in the Reserves area.)
  2. Read all of the versions of the bill.

    As noted above, this will often be the most fruitful part of your search. Remember to start with the version of the bill as introduced and read through each amendment to see what changes were made along the way.

    Where can I find the bills?

    • 1913-1988: in print, on Stacks (KFC5)
    • 1989-2004: in the Micro Room, LL205 (case L, drawers 3-4)
    • 1993-present: California official bill information site
    • If the bill you need is missing from our collection, you can find it at the Main (Doe) Library in the Government Documents collection.
    • 1991-present: Westlaw (password required): CA-BILLTXT (current session) or CA-BILLTXT-OLD (past sessions): The trick here is to enter the odd-numbered year because all legislative sessions begin in the odd-numbered year—e.g., to find Stats. 1992 c. 162 (AB 2650) enter "1991 w/8 2650"
    • Lexis provides access to bills from the current legislative session only.
  3. Read the bill history, which lists all of the action taken on the bill.

    Bill histories are located in the Final History (formerly called Final Calendar). You will find the Final History or Final Calendar together with the Senate and Assembly bills in the locations listed above, and online at the Clerk of the Assembly's website. Bill histories are listed chronologically by bill number. Make a note of the author(s) and the committees that the bill was referred to.

  4. Look for "legislative intent" letters in the Assembly Journal

    In recent decades occasional letters from individual legislators have appeared in the Assembly Journal (Stacks, KFC5) expressing the intent of language in a bill or the scope or purpose of a bill. These legislative intent letters do not appear in the bill history, but you should check for them on the dates any action was taken on the bill. You may also find them by looking in the Alphabetical Index to Assembly Journal under "JOURNAL, PRINT IN--Legislative Intent, Letters of--[followed by bill numbers]" or "PRINT IN JOURNAL--[followed by the author of the bill and the bill number]." Other Index headings to try include the name of the legislator who introduced the bill, the governor's name or "LEGISLATIVE INTENT." You can also find them by checking the Bill Action Index in the Assembly Journal Index. They generally appear in the Assembly Journal the year that a bill is acted on, but occasionally they appear after a law has gone into effect, so you may want to check the Assembly Journal indexes for several years for a given bill.

    You may also look online for Assembly Journals by going to the Clerk of the Assembly's website

Hearings and Reports


Search LawCat (BerkeleyLaw's online catalog) to see if the Library has any hearings or reports that pertain to a bill.

From LawCat's main menu choose a keyword search. Follow this format—California Senate [or Assembly] Judiciary [or other key word from the committee name, e.g., Aging, Criminal, Health, Utilities, Water]

You will retrieve all of the hearings and reports of that committee that BerkeleyLaw has. You can then click on Modify Search and specify the year range to search. In California, hearings are often held a year or two before a bill is introduced; it is best to provide a time span of several years before and after the date of the bill.

On the Modify Search page, you can also limit by subject words, e.g., environmental, medical, housing, etc. or by title words, e.g., probate, child abuse, insurance.

If you need assistance searching LawCat, please see a reference librarian.

Journal Appendices

Check the Appendix to the Journals from 1946-1970 for committee reports.

Selected reports of legislative committees were published in the Appendix of the Senate Journal from 1946-1970, and of the Assembly Journal from 1956-1970. The Journals are located in the Stacks (KFC5) following the bills for each year. You may also find committee reports from these years separately published and cataloged in our collection.

Governor's chaptered bill files

The Governor's Office maintains files for each legislative bill signed into law (chaptered) or vetoed. These files typically contain analyses prepared by the Legislative Counsel, Attorney General, other constitutional officers, state agencies and the Governor's staff. Also available is correspondence from the bill's author as well as affected organizations and individuals. Vetoed bill files include the text of the Governor's veto message.

Find these files for 1943-1995 on microfilm located in Micro Room, LL205 (Case 15.)

Other Sources

Other libraries, such as Government Documents at UCB, may have received some hearings and reports that Boalt does not have. Consult the following indexes to determine if a hearing or report was published:

  1. List of Special Committees and Commissions by Legislative Session, 1850-1936, by Christian L. Larsen (Reference Desk, KFC20 .L37).
  2. California Interim Legislative Committees and Their Reports, 1937-1971 (Stacks KFC723 .A835). Lists published hearings and reports by committee, and also has a subject index.
  3. Hearings and Reports of Committees of the California Legislature, 1961-1984 (Stacks KFC723 .A84). Lists published hearings and reports alphabetically by committee.
  4. Joint Publications Catalog, 1985-1989 (Government Documents Library, 350 Doe, JK8731 .A423). Lists published hearings and reports alphabetically by committee.
  5. California State Publications, 1945-May 2003 (Stacks KFC1 .C33). Use this to determine whether recent hearings or reports have been published. Published monthly and cumulated for several years (e.g., 1982-2000) on microfiche (LL205, Case I, Drawer 3). Available online from 2001-present at the Califonia State Library's CSP site

If any of the above sources indicate that other hearings or reports were published, then search for the document by title on the OskiCat and Melvyl online catalogs.

Expanding Your Search

If you want to expand your search further, try the following sources:

It is sometimes effective to contact the bill's author; especially for recently enacted legislation (s/he may have materials in his or her file cabinets, plus other leads). Be sure to provide the year and bill number when requesting bill analysis information. Ask at the reference desk for phone numbers.

Don't forget about advocacy groups, research centers, think tanks and foundations that may have been interested in the legislation. Try the following:

For a fee you may have your search done by a commercial searching service, and since they have access to materials in Sacramento that we do not receive in our library, such a search may turn up useful information. Some services to try are:

  • Legislative Research & Intent LLC—Click on "Resources" for many useful links. The article entitled "Legislative History Notes: Correspondence Found in Legislative Bill Files" is particularly good as it discusses the kinds of materials that a judge will take judicial notice of in a case.
  • Legislative History & Intent (Jan Raymond)—this commercial service also offers additional guides to searching for California legislative intent material
  • Legislative Intent Service—Be sure to browse the website for useful resources and guides.


First read the text of the proposition and arguments submitted to voters in the ballot pamphlets. Voters Arguments, 1883-present, are located in the Micro Room, LL205, Case I, Drawer 3, call # KFC711.A832. The early years just provide summaries of the initiatives, with no arguments. Ballot Pamphlets and Voter Information Guides from 1996 onwards can be found at the Secretary of State web page. UC Hastings has a database of California Ballot Propositions from 1911 to the present.

You can search LawCat for books and legislative hearings and reports regarding California propositions:

  • From LawCat's main menu choose Keyword Search. Type: California proposition* or initiative* or referend*
  • You will retrieve over 140 entries. You can then limit by date, by title words, or by subject words. For instance, using a title word limit, you can enter "13" and find over 25 publications in our library about Proposition 13.

You can search LegalTrac and Index to Legal Periodicals for articles written about California propositions around the time of their passage. Also check the Main Library's Electronic Resource Finder for indexes and full-text databases to search newspapers and other journal articles. You may choose America's Newspapers from the list and use the "California Newspapers" search shortcut from the navigation bar on the left of the search screen.

  • For instance, on LegalTrac, enter the subject California. Then expand your search with relevant words, e.g.: proposition 98.

If a proposition originated as a bill in the California Legislature (which you can determine by looking at the text of the proposition on microfiche), you can follow the applicable steps above in researching the legislative history of a bill—e.g., read the different versions of the bill, read the bill history, call the California State Archives Office, etc.











Prepared by Ramona Martinez, Reference Librarian, UC Berkeley Law Library. Please direct any comments or suggestions to her.  Cooperatively edited by the BerkeleyLaw Reference Staff.

Last edited by Michael Lindsey, 20 October 2011