Strategies for Researching Legislative History
Researching the legislative history of a Maryland session law can be a time consuming undertaking that ultimately results in little new insight into the thinking behind a particular legislative enactment. Nonetheless, there is often information of some value to be found and the following is an overview of both the sources to use and some tips on how to use them effectively.
Much of the information that follows is taken from an article by Michael S. Miller and Judith C. Levinson entitled Ghost Hunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History. The full article, which provides much more background and detail about the sources, is available from the library’s homepage under “Research Guides – Specialized – Maryland Law – Maryland Legal Research Guides.” Mr. Miller served as the Director of the Maryland State Law Library from 1977 to 2005.
Maryland Code superseded volumes
The library maintains a nearly comprehensive collection of superseded volumes of the Maryland Code. In addition to providing a snapshot of how the code stood at a particular point in the past, these volumes can be a significant part of legislative history research.
Since the early 1970s the edition of the code first published in 1957 has been gradually replaced by a new edition. The first time a volume appears in the new format it includes Revisor’s Notes, which explain in some detail the editorial and substantive changes that were made in recompiling from the format of the 1957 edition. Unfortunately, these Revisor’s Notes are only included in this first publication and not in any subsequent republications of the volume. If a “Replacement Volume” is the current volume, then reference must be made back to the superseded volume that first introduced the named subject article to locate the Revisor’s Notes.
In addition, the new edition of the Maryland Code uses the 1957 edition of the code as a “platform” for session law information. Reference must be made to a superseded volume of the 1957 edition to find earlier session laws that have contributed to the section of the code as it currently stands. There are many instances where these session laws go back to the eighteenth century.
Maryland session laws, as enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor, are published chronologically in the Laws of Maryland. They are arranged by chapter number, which is a sequential number assigned as enacted legislation is signed into law. A new sequence of chapter numbers begins with each session of the legislature. Going to the session law is by far the most efficient way to determine the number of the bill that was enacted. Knowing the bill number is critical to using all additional legislative history sources.
Bill number sequences span only one year's legislative session. HB (House Bill) or SB (Senate Bill) is the prefix depending on the chamber of origin. The Maryland Constitution requires three readings on the floor for all enacted bills. The First Reading takes place before referral to a committee. The Second Reading occurs at the time of action on the floor. At this reading, the bill is open to amendments. The Third Reading occurs when the vote is taken. Amendments are not allowed at the time of the Third Reading. Pre-filed bills are filed before the session begins and are read on opening day.
Locating the text of Maryland bills
There is no systematic publication of hearings at the state level. Transcripts of testimony are occasionally found in bill files (see below under Maryland Legislative History of Bills). Committees sometimes record testimony.
Beginning in 1982, section-by-section analyses and floor reports provided by the committees are contained in the bill files (see below under Maryland Legislative History of Bills.)
While there is no comparable publication to federal committee prints, bill files often contain information such as the fiscal note that must accompany each Maryland bill, study commission reports and miscellaneous notes.
Maryland House and Senate Journals
Available in the library beginning with the 1927 volumes, access to the journals is by bill number and subject in an index that is published in the last volume of every year. The contents of the journals include the committee to which the bill was referred, subsequent amendments, the vote on amendments, and the final roll call vote. However, the results of searching in these volumes are often less than the researcher might expect, as much of the information provided is purely procedural.
Floor debates are not published at the state level. Since 1992, debates of floor sessions in the Senate of Maryland have been audio taped. The Legislative Services Library in Annapolis provides access to these tapes for interested researchers.
Maryland Legislative History of Bills
First produced on microfilm in 1976, these are the bill files that were maintained by the various standing committees of the General Assembly. No microfilm was produced to cover 1977 and recently the set has been produced with a lag time of about ten years. More recent bill files are available in the Maryland Legislative Reference Library in Annapolis. Although coverage varies by year and by bill, most bill files contain some of the following materials:
General Assembly Web Site
The site http://mlis.state.md.us/ includes information about bills introduced in the current legislative session. Access is by subject, bill number, sponsor, committee or statutory section affected. The contents include sponsor, bill synopsis, current legislative history, and text of each bill version.
Governor's Messages and Vetoes
The Governor's messages can provide insight into the administration's proposed legislation. The traditional State-of-the-State message of the Governor appears in the House and Senate Journals. All executive orders and proclamations are reprinted and indexed in the Journal volumes and session laws and some also appear in the Annotated Code of Maryland, the Maryland Register, and COMAR. Executive veto messages generally appear in the Maryland House and Senate Journals (usually at the beginning of the session) and the Laws of Maryland.
Serious legislative history research may require a trip to the Legislative Reference Library in Annapolis. Bill files that are too recent to be covered in the microform collection are available there. As noted above, for a more detailed discussion of sources available, see Ghost Hunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History.