Pennsylvania Legislative Histories – “Tricks of the Trade”

September 18, 2006

Conducting a state legislative history can often be a tedious and fruitless exercise…but sometimes you get lucky.  A recent thread on GPLLA-L, the listserv of the Greater Philadelphia Law Library Association, provides some tips for compiling  Pennsylvania Legislative Histories for pre-1965 legislation.   

Susan Zavacky, Librarian at the Legislative Reference Bureau in Harrisburg says of locating legislative debates, “As a very general, simple rule of thumb – ANY Final History of House and Senate Bills PRIOR to 1965 should not be trusted to list floor debates. Research for these years should ALWAYS include a look in the Journal Indices. Additionally, for many years, the organization of the Indices varied – and some of these variables, in of themselves, are treasure troves of “finding tool information. As a further point of information, the book “House History” was first available in 1915. Both House and Senate Histories were produced beginning in 1917.”  Head of Information & Research Services at the Jenkins Law Library, Nancy Garner, concurred, stating that “the Jenkins reference staff checks the indexes to the House and Senate Journals when compiling
Pennsylvania legislative histories prior to 1969.

The debate portions of many Pennsylvania Legislative Histories have been compiled by the reference staff at Jenkins for legislation going back as far as 1836.  A list of available Legislative Histories can be viewed on the Jenkins web site. Full access is available to Jenkins members free of charge; nonmembers can order through the Jenkins Document Delivery service. 

Check out this research guide at the web site of the Jenkins Law Library for more on the subject: How to Compile a Pennsylvania Legislative History. 

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