Legislative History

Research into legislative history is important to both citizens and the legislature itself.  Legislative history records document the development of state laws as they are crafted, debated, amended, and approved or rejected by the legislature.  In this respect, legislative history records are vitally important as an indication of what is called the legislative intent of laws.  Legislative intent refers to why laws are created, and it is therefore an important element in understanding how laws are to be applied.  Legislative history records are important resources for the interpretation of existing laws and for the shaping of new laws.


How legislative history records become "archives"

Legislative Committee Files:House and Senate Committee Bill FilesHouse and Senate Committee Meeting Files:House and Senate Committee Meeting Tapes:House and Senate Issue Files:

Other Records

Legislative Council Records:  The Legislative Council was composed of the leaders of both the House and the Senate. It met between sessions to consider proposed legislation to be introduced in the ensuing session. The records consist of bill drafts, correspondence, and "research requests," covering 1947-1974. They are very incomplete.

Governors' Bill Files:  Files on each bill considered by the Governor for signature. Generally includes a copy of the signed bill, staff analysis reports, and veto messages. Includes 1951-55, 1965-84.

Papers of State Representatives and Senators:  Some legislators donate their personal papers to the Archives. These collections often include files on issues of concern to the legislator and sometimes files on bills which they sponsored.

Files on issues of particular concern to a House or Senate Committee. Issue files are organized by subject and may contain reports, studies, correspondence, drafts of bills and other materials.  Audio tapes of public hearings on each bill. Includes comments and testimony by parties interested in a particular bill. The hearing tapes cover entire committee hearings and are not broken down by bill number. Hearing tapes from House committees after 1984 are recorded at a faster than normal speed and require special playback devices to be understandable.  Meeting files contain rosters of interested parties who appeared at committee hearings, committee agendas, and sometimes copies of written testimony on a bill.: Bill files document action taken on particular legislation after it has been introduced. Typically, the documentation consists of committee reports, various drafts of the bill, amendments, staff summaries, and related backup material. The bill files generally are sufficient to establish legislative intent.

Reference Materials

While the Archives is the only source for documentation on legislative committee action on bills, there are other sources which might also be useful. These sources are available at the Archives and at most libraries.  They include:

Revised Code of Washington (RCW):  A cumulative codification of the laws passed which pertain to a particular subject.  The Washington State Office of the Code Reviser publishes a recent edition of the RCW on its web site at http://slc.leg.wa.gov/wsladm/rcw.htm.

Laws of Washington:  The actual text of each law passed by the Legislature.

Journals of the House and Senate:  Summaries of the floor debate in the House and the Senate.

Research Procedures

To begin a search for "legislative history" on a particular law, the Archives needs the bill number and the year that the bill was passed. The Archives then will research the bill, find the House and Senate committees which considered the bill, and make their files on the bill available for research.

Research in committee files may be done on site at the Archives for no fee except a charge of $0.25 per page for each copy made by the researcher. If the researcher wishes the Archives staff to research and copy the files, there is a fee of $30.00 per hour plus the copying fee and any mailing costs. The Archives will include a receipt with the materials provided.

Archives Contact Information

The Archives is located in the State Archives Building, 1129 Washington Street SE, Olympia, WA 98504-0238. Please call ahead with your request and for directions to the building.

Telephone requests for legislative history may be made to (360) 586-1492.

Research email:  [email protected]