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.


Looking for information about New Jersey Statutes?  A wealth of information can be found in a number of places, starting with the web site of the New Jersey  Legislature.  You can find a link to the New Jersey Statutes, view or listen to live proceedings or archived proceedings of the Legislature back to the 2000-2001 Session, access the text of House and Senate Bills back to the 1996-1997 Session, or view the Chapter Laws the final version of the bill that became the law. 

If you want to pursue the history of a law to determine the intent of the legislature, the New Jersey State Library is the place to go.  Legislative histories back to 1998 are available online.  Histories prior to 1998 are available from the Law Library.

Members of the the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) are eligible for free access to New Jersey and Federal legal research information via NJ CiteLine, according to the NJSBA. Coverage includes court opinions, statutes, rules and regulations. LexisNexis and the NJSBA “teamed up to provide NJSBA members with [this] customized FREE legal research member tool [which is] available exclusively to NJSBA members, helping us to support lawyers in their practices.” A NJSBA ID number and password are required to register. 

Does your law library subscribe to HeinOnline?  If so, you have access to a fantastic resource for federal legislative histories.  HeinOnline’s Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories database is derived from Nancy Johnson’s print publication, Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books, which is often the first step for researchers who are hoping to divine the legislative intent behind the language of a law.  In addition to providing you with the citations to sources of the legislative history for public laws however, HeinOnline provides links to the full text of the congressional documents, legal periodicals, treatises and looseleaf services which are often seen as the holy grail for many a researcher.  What a useful resource.

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. 

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. 

Searching statutes on Lexis and Westlaw can be difficult, and often your search will retrieve many more hits than you can read through. These hits may appear because the terms appear in the case annotations, secondary sources and other editorial enhancements. To limit your search to just the text of the statutory code try using fields on Westlaw or segments on Lexis. Examples:

Westlaw Use the field substantive-doc:

SD(copyright and infring! and remedy)

LexisNexis – Use the segment unanno:

UNNANO(copyright and infring! and remedy)