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The Secret Life of Oregon Legislative History


Compiling a legislative history is not as dull as it sounds. Sure there is some slogging but the treasure troves are often off those beaten paths. If you want to research the history of an Oregon statute, here are some hints:

1) Don’t forget the beaten path: you still need to read through the legislative journals and calendars, minutes, exhibits, tracings, and in fact, all of these basic resources are incredibly useful preparation for searching further afield. I like the legislative history guides you can find at Oregon’s law school libraries and one of them might do the trick for you: University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark, and Willamette.

2) Be methodical: I’ve created my own Oregon legislative history checklist / cheat sheet (link also from our web page) that you can look at here. It has served me well. If you like it, but want to tweak it for your own needs, email me and I’ll send you a word processed version you can make your own.

3) Internet Sleuthing, including:

Library research: This used to mean visiting and calling the State Library, the State Law Library, historical societies, newspaper libraries, talking to legislative staff, etc., but the brave new world is with us, you know, those infamous Internet Tubes. Use them the way you used to use shoe leather and the telephone. Most, but not all, libraries now have online catalogs so log on and search. In Oregon, this means finding out that a lot of our libraries share catalogs (talk about a boon!). Visit the Hatfield Consortium and see. Each of these libraries has a reference desk so if you need some expert help, use the telephone, a highly evolved technological device often much faster and nicer than typing into a search engine, which is admittedly useful for those pesky after-hour research projects.

Internet research (dogpile, google, etc.): Not all reports, testimony and other legislative documentation are found on state legislative websites and in Oregon at least, the real meat of bill files (aka bill jackets) won’t be found at the State Archives web site either (though the actual bill files and abbreviated “transcripts” will end up there – so call them – they really know their stuff too). Sometimes a simple search engine search will do the trick, e.g. “Oregon legislative history death dignity” rather

Now, take some of that information you found in #1 and 2 above, and use it to hone your Internet search. You’d be surprised what searches as simple as “Oregon hb xxxx testimony” sometime turn up. Also, if you saw that x organization presented testimony at a House hearing, check out that organization’s web site. If you see the name of someone who appeared at a hearing, search that person’s name and the popular name of the bill or the bill number.

Penultimate bottom line: even though not everything is on the web, an awful lot is – you just have to be persistant and and creative.

The Bottom Line: Good luck and call a Librarian or an Archivist if you get stuck!

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