50-State Surveys

March 9, 2008

If you need to survey the laws of multiple states on a particular subject, check out this recent LLRX post, Reference from Coast to Coast: Learning to Love Those 50 State Surveys.  You’ll find some very useful sources including the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Here is a new story on crafting a state legislative history.  A recent article by Hatch Parent’s head legal librarian, Stephanie Ball, was published in the Sept/Oct 2006 AALL Spectrum.  Telling a State Statute’s Story describes the method of documenting legislative intent, which can be “one of the most challenging requests for a librarian,” but that can “often mean the difference between winning and losing a case.”  The article uses the legislative process for California as an example. 

The New Jersey Digital Legal Library at the Rutgers School of Law Library-Newark hosts the archived webcasts of oral arguments of the NJ Supreme Court beginning in 2005, and older than 30 days. Webcasts of the oral arguments held within the last 30 days are available on the New Jersey Judiciary Website. These are actually videos of the oral arguments.  In addition to the arguments you will often find links to the opinions under appeal and final Supreme Court Opinion for each. You may access the records by browsing by case title, browsing by argument date or searching by keyword. 

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. 

Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System is the main portal for Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas and Appellate Court information.  You can access Web docket sheets and local rules for many Pennsylvania courts.  More counties are going on line all the time! County dockets – This has been a long time coming!

The Philadelphia Estate Practitioner’s Handbook now includes The Red Book – Practice and Procedure Before the Orphans’ Court Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The Green Book – Forms for Use Before the Register of Wills and the Orphans’ Court Division and the Blue Book – Register of Wills of Philadelphia County Manual can also be found at the site. Thanks to Legal Research Tips from the Jenkins Law Library for that update.

Forms for requesting birth & death certificates, driver & vehicle services, tax forms, applications for social services, and other popular forms are available here: Most Requested Pennsylvania Forms.