A patron recently asked what something meant. They were pointing at a series of numbers and abbreviations at the end of a statute. It looked like this “[1957 c.448 §1; 1981 c.88 §2; 1983 c.330 §1; 1993 c.741 §110; 1993 c.796 §1; 2001 c.403 §1]” (ORS 776.015). I told them that is the history of the law.
When the legislature passes a law, it starts as a bill. That bill has a number, like HB 2001 or SB 101. That tells us if it’s a House Bill (HB) or Senate Bill (SB). Those bills that are approved by both houses and signed by the Governor become a session law. Those session laws are compiled after each legislative session. Those compilations are titled Oregon Laws.
The Oregon Revised Statutes are a compilation of all the session laws passed by the legislature that are currently in effect. To make it easier to find a law, they are organized by subject. But each statute has a list of the session laws that have impacted it, in brackets. That is the text our patron was asking about.
From our example above, we can see that ORS 776.015 was created in 1957. The text of the session law related to it can be found in 1957 Oregon Laws chapter 448 section 1. To shorten that it’s simply displayed as “1957 c. 448 §1.” We can also see that this statute was changed in 1981, 1983, 1993, and 2001.
If we go look at the session law from 1957, it will tell us that the law started as “S.B. 375.” If we wanted to find more information on the creation of this statute, we would need to find the legislative history of 1957 Senate Bill 375.
Federal laws have similar notes that provide the history of the session laws that created or amended them. The terminology and abbreviations are different, but the concepts are the same.