Researching Older Legislation

So far, we have covered basic California legislative history research when the legislation dates back to 1993. Further back than this, finding bill versions online becomes more difficult, but a recent collaboration between California Office of Legislative Counsel, the Witkin State Law Library, the California Digital Library, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, HathiTrust and Google to digitize California legislative information offers additional information.

The California Legislative Publications 1850-2009 is most coherently organized in a GoogleDoc spreadsheet here. There are large collections of bills, including most Assembly Bills from 1911-1988 and Senate Bills from 1903-1987. There are other resources available in the footer, but many of them are also found on the Chief Clerk of the Assembly Archives.

There is a little more trial-and-error browsing involved when using this spreadsheet for research.

Let’s explore how to use it, assuming we have a bill citation already discerned by using the Chief Clerk of the Assembly Archives and a Table of Sections Affected. Let’s look for the text of SB 502 from 1947. First, select “Senate Bills 1903-1987” from the spreadsheets at the bottom of the page.

This will bring up a list of all available Senate Bills. The year is in the first column, so scroll until you find 1947. Instead of bill numbers, there is a volume number, so you may have to click a few to find the range of bills that includes what you are looking for. Generally, each volume will have somewhere around 200 bills.

After opening a few volumes to find what you we are looking for, it seems that for SB 502, we should open “v.3” by following the circled link.

Note: This guide will show the bills as presented in HathiTrust, but they are also available via Google in the column to the right of the circled link.

This is the correct file, as the page it opens to show that it contains Senate Bills 501-750. You can page through to find the bill versions, as they are sequential, or you can use the “Search in this text” box. While the text is OCR’d, the search can sometimes return many results as many bills cite others multiple times

The beginning of the bill text for SB 502 is shown here. You have found the first version as introduced if you see the “Introduced by” language as circled and there are no dates of amendments listed above it.

An example of a later version is shown in the lower image. This is the second version of a bill, and as such it lists one amendment to the bill in the header.

Circled text: Amended in Assembly April 11, 1947.

This resource is invaluable in searching for bill versions prior to the 1993-94 legislative session. These bills are not available elsewhere in a digital format, and are invaluable. Not all bills are included back to 1903 in this collection, but the print collection at the Witkin State Library should have any that are missing from this collection.