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Legislative History

How did we answer that? Legislative History

I had a woman come in asking for help doing a legislative history. She didn’t get into details with what she wanted beyond needing to know the history of one of the statutes about whistleblowers.

When doing a legislative history, the first thing to do is find which statute you want to know the history of. In this case, the woman already knew the exact statute. I got her onto one of our legal databases (there are many options out there, but at WCLL our main ones are Lexis and Westlaw). Conveniently, the statute she was looking at only had one bill to research for changes. Had there been more, she would have done the same following steps, but repeated for each bill.

From our database, we were able to locate the bill number. Bills are denoted as HB or SB, House Bill or Senate Bill. This is important to distinguish because where the bill originated will determine what resource to look in next. In this case, it was a house bill. From there, we went to our house journals book for that year and found the bill. In the journal we found the entry that delineated the timeline of activities associated with this bill.

To find more information was a little more tricky. Many factors, including how old a bill is and if other people have requested information about it, can determine next steps in finding information. For this woman, her bill was from 2009. This ruled out our microfilm collection as it only goes up to 1995. This left us with looking at the Oregon Archives online records search from the Oregon archives website. This feature can be hit or miss as to whether exhibits are available for a bill. In this case we were able to find some exhibits. The reason other people’s requests impact results is that the archives records search gets scanned and updated when someone requests information. If we had not found anything or if there was further information she wanted, our patron would need to reach out to the archive in Salem. As this was a relatively recent bill (1995 to present), I also showed her the Oregon Legislature’s site where she was able to find some information but most of it had already been replicated through our previous work, including the information we found from the house journal.

When we have patrons asking for legislative history questions, we can reliably find information up to the timeline of activities of a bill. Finding exhibits and documented discussions surrounding the bill is where it becomes variable. We try to set expectations accordingly when working with someone not familiar with the process/system. As more people request information, the reliability of historical information available will grow. Until it is regularly available, we find it is appreciated when we let people know they may not be able to conclude their research on the same day. They are also pleasantly surprised when it is available, so it is a win-win!

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