How to Research an Illinois Legislative History
Legislative history refers to the documents produced by the General Assembly while a bill is being studied and debated. In Illinois, legislative history materials are primarily transcripts from floor debates in the Illinois House and Senate. These transcripts have been produced since October 1971 (Ill. Const. 1970, art IV, §§ 7).
Some commercial and subscription databases, such as Westlaw or LexisNexis, compile legislative history documents. This tutorial will show you how to do it without paid services, using free resources found online or in your local public law library.
Illinois General Assembly - or ILGA, has two chambers: the House and the Senate. A bill will be introduced in one chamber. If that chamber approves the bill, it moves to the other. If the second chamber approves it, it will be sent to the governor for signing. Each session of the General Assembly has a number; for example the 101st G.A. refers to the session that met from 2019-2020.
Bill - a bill is a proposed law that is introduced in one of the houses of the Illinois General Assembly. A bill will start with either “SB” or “HB” (Senate Bill or House Bill). The location indicates which chamber the bill originated in, but it will keep this same name when it moves to the other chamber. The bill will also have a number. Numbers are assigned sequentially based on the order in which they are introduced. For example, SB740 is the 740th bill introduced in the Senate in any given year.
Public Act - if a bill is approved by both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, it is sent to the governor of Illinois. If the governor signs the bill, it becomes a public act, which means it has been signed into law. Public act numbers start with the number of the General Assembly, followed by a sequential number. For example, PA 99-205 is the 205th bill that became law during the 99th G.A.
Statute - statutes are codified law. Instead of being arranged by the order in which they were approved, the law is arranged by topic. Once a public act becomes law, it will be added to the codified statutes. The public act might delete certain sections of the old statute, edit it, or add new sections. Statutes have an entirely different numbering system from public acts. See Organization of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS)
for more information.
You’ll start a legislative history with a public act number. You might find one by looking at the history of a particular statute, but ask a law librarian if you are not sure about which public act to research. The public act number will lead you to the original bill number.
If the public act is from the 93rd G.A. (2003-2004) or later, you can conduct the entire legislative history online using the website of the Illinois General Assembly. Search for the public act and identify the bill number in the full text of the public act.
Anything older will require the use of books from the library’s collection (though newer legislative histories can be conducted using books as well!) Find the public act in The Laws of Illinois (KFI1225.2 .I45) and identify the bill number from there.
Once you have a bill number, the next step is to find the bill actions. Bill actions are a timeline of the bill’s passage. They show the dates when a bill was introduced, discussed, or passed in the General Assembly. You need these dates to find the transcripts of debates for a particular bill.
93rd G.A. (2003-2004) or Later - ILGA.gov
From the individual Public Ac page, click on “Bill Status” in the top left corner of the screen. This page includes summaries of the bill, notes on changes, sponsors, and all actions taken by the General Assembly in relation to the bill. Under “Actions” you will find a dated timeline that will guide you to the transcripts.
92nd G.A. (2001-02) or Earlier - Illinois Legislative Synopsis & Digest
For older bills, locate the bill in Illinois Legislative Synopsis & Digest
(KFI1218 .I452). This series of books shows summaries, notes about changes to a bill, bill sponsors, and all actions taken by the General Assembly in relation to this bill.
Search the Bill Actions for important actions. Generally you’ll want to look for the following in both chambers: Second Reading, Third Reading, Concurrence, or Conference Committee (note: First Readings are procedural, not substantive, and can generally be ignored). See the ILGA’s infographic for a more detailed exploration of the legislative process.
All debate transcripts dating back to October 1971 are on the ILGA website. Select the correct G.A. from the dropdown bar
and then select the House or Senate transcripts. From the next dropdown bar, select the date of the session.
The transcripts are usually hundreds of pages long, so use CTR + F to search for the bill number and its corresponding debate. You will not be able to search for the public act number because the bill only receives one if it passes.
Other Sources of Legislative History
- Committee Reports - when bills are introduced, they are assigned to a committee according to subject. The committee will submit its findings ( a recommendation of “do pass” or “do not pass”) to the respective chamber. These reports are generally not made available, but you can check the House (KFI1218 .I45) and Senate (KFI1218 .I4) Journals for more information.
- Conference Committee Reports - found in the House (KFI1218 .I45) and Senate (KFI1218 .I4) Journals.
- House Committee Meetings - available on audiotape (for a fee) dating to the mid 1970’s. Call the House Clerk at (217) 782-8100. You will provide the bill and/or public act number and your mailing address. The invoice and recording will be mailed to you. The Illinois Senate does not provide recordings of its committee meetings.
- Governor’s Messages and Vetos - check the House (KFI1218 .I45) and Senate (KFI1218 .I4) Journals. These might be especially helpful for similar bills introduced in the preceding legislative session that did not survive the Gubernatorial veto.
- Law Review Articles - citations for law reviews might appear in the annotated versions of the Illinois Statutes (West: KFI1230 .A473; Lexis: KFI1230 .A42). Ask a librarian if you need help deciphering these citations.
- Newspapers - there may have been newspaper coverage of controversial legislation around the time a bill was being considered by the legislature.
Need more help? Ask a librarian!