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Zimmerman's Research Guide


New York State - Legislative History

New York has a lot of legislative history materials. This is not to say that you can get a lot of information about every law - in most cases there's just the text of the law, the bill tracking record and the contents of the bill jacket (see "Bill Jackets"). But there are many kinds of legislative history materials, and the legislative history of major laws can run to thousands of pages.

The best sources for New York legislative history materials are probably the New York State Library (518-474-5355) and the New York Legislative Service (212-962-2826), which specializes in New York legislative research. Some materials are available from the libraries at the New York County Lawyers' Association (212-267-6648), the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (212-382-6696) and most New York law schools.

Strategy: If you are asked to get the legislative history of a bill, there are generally three ways to approach the request. One approach is to get the basic materials, which generally means:

A second approach is to try to get as much as possible yourself. To do this, use the sources discussed below and follow the steps in Compiling the Legislative History of a New York State Law. Note: This is time consuming and often frustrating, especially if the primary materials are not readily accessible in your area.

The third approach is to place an order with the New York Legislative Service (212-962-2826, -2827 or -2828). Hiring the NYLS is the fastest and easiest way to get the most complete result when doing NY legislative history research. I would recommend using them if you want to get anything beyond the readily available materials.

Note: When you want the NYLS to get you "everything," be specific - run down the following list of materials and say you want it all. Otherwise, they'll probably just give you whatever is in their files. If you're specific, they will also get the rest from the appropriate sources in Albany.

Following are all the kinds of New York legislative history materials that could possibly be available.

Bill Jackets: To get copies of bill jackets, see the separate entry for "Bill Jackets."

Bill Text: See the separate entry for "New York State - Legislative Branch - Bills."

Bill Tracking Record: Bill tracking records for recent bills are posted by the New York State Assembly, the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission and the Legislative Retrieval System.

For older bills, you can gets copies from a print source (discussed below) or search Lexis (LEGIS;NYTRCK) or Westlaw (NY-BILLTRK).

Print Sources: Bill tracking records are published in the New York Legislative Index (1907-1912) or the New York Legislative Record and Index (1913-1984) or the New York State Legislative Digest (1984-Present). You can search these materials by Chapter number.

Key Point: The Index or Digest will have a table that lets you look up the Assembly and Senate bill numbers using the Chapter number. The bill numbers are essential information for getting most of the other materials mentioned below. The bill tracking record will give you the exact date the bill was passed, which is necessary to get Senate floor debates.

Chapters: See "Session Laws," below.

Committee Materials: For pending legislation, check the Assembly's Committee Agenda page (select "Assembly Committee Agenda" on the bottom right). For Senate committees, use the Senate's Open Legislation website to search legislation by committee (info is available back to 2011). You can also call the relevant committee's information officer. You can look up the officer's name and number in the New York Red Book, if you have a copy. Otherwise, just call the Senate or Assembly switchboard and ask to be transferred. The Assembly also publishes Annual Reports back to 2011 for each of the committees.

The New York Legislative Digest (an annual with quarterly advance sheets) tells you what the standing Senate and Assembly committees did during the year. In particular, the Digest will tell you if a standing committee published any miscellaneous materials. The Checklist of Official Publications of the State of NY lists studies, reports, hearings, etc., by other committees, starting October 1947.

For bills introduced between 1831 and 1975, check for miscellaneous materials in the New York State Legislative Documents Series (discussed in the "Hearings" section, above).

Floor Debates: Floor debates are verbatim transcripts of substantive comments made on the Assembly or Senate floors. The Senate started keeping transcripts of selected floor debates in 1960 and the Assembly started in 1974. Note: Transcripts are available only for about 5% of all bills.

Transcripts of Senate floor debates are available back to 1993 on the Senate's Open Legislation website and transcripts of Assembly floor debates are available back to 2011 on the Assembly's website (in most cases, both the video recording and the transcript are available). You can find out if there was a "floor debate" for a particular bill only by calling the Senate Public Information Department (518-455-3200 - you'll need the bill number, the bill year, and some patience -- and you may have to submit your request in writing) or the Assembly Public Information Office (518-455-4218 - you need bill number and date bill was passed) for Assembly debates starting with 1977 or the New York State Archives for Assembly debates from 1974-1976.

To order Senate and/or Assembly debates, you can either call the New York Legislative Service (which is costly but fast, easy & which often includes other relevant materials) or call the office mentioned above which is slow and often frustrating (and the Senate requires pre-payment). See also "Record Entries," below.

Hearings: In the past, Hearings were published in the New York State Legislative Documents Series. The series has been put into four compilations (one for 1930, one for Assembly documents 1831-1918, one for Senate documents 1931-1918 and one for both houses from 1919 to 1975). Subsequent documents have not been collected and sold as a set, although individual documents are still published.

To get additional Hearings, call the New York State Library (518-474-5355), which has printed hearings, and/or the NY State Assembly Office Program and Committee Staff (518-455-4433), which keeps audio tapes of selected hearings. Alternatively, the New York Legislative Service (212-962-2826) may have the Hearing or could get it for you.

Journal Entries: The Senate and Assembly both keep journals, called the Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the Assembly, respectively. You can look up the journal entries about a particular bill by bill number in the annual index.

The journals provide a timeline of what happened on the senate floor, including voting results. They do not discuss the events and the entries generally are not useful for determining legislative intent.

Law Revision Commission: From 1934 to 1970 the Reports of the Law Revision Commission were published in the Law Revisions Commission Reports. From 1950 to 1970 the basic Commission Report to the legislature was also published in McKinney's Session Laws, while the Commissions' studies on possible legislation were published separately. Since 1970 the whole report has been published in McKinney's Session Laws. (Look in the Session Laws' index to find them.)

Memoranda: Most introductory, sponsor, approval and veto memoranda are published in the NY State Legislative Annual, starting in 1946. Westlaw includes "executive, legislative and judicial memoranda" in its NY-LEGIS-OLD and NY-LH databases, from 1996 to the prior year (e.g., 2007 in 2008).

Sponsor's memoranda are also included in the bill jacket and McKinney's Session Laws. Memoranda of state departments and agencies are also printed in McKinney's Session Laws and CLS Session Laws.

News: Good sources for news articles about New York legislation include (a) The New York Law Journal, (b) the New York Times Index, (b) Proquest Historical Newspapers, which includes the New York Times (1851-2001) and Wall Street Journal (1889-1987) and/or (d) the Lexis NY;NYNWS or NEWS;LEGAL databases or any other relevant online news databases that cover the relevant time period.

You might also want to check other NY papers, such as the Albany Times-Union or the Knickerbocker News (which subsequently merged with the Times-Union). For copies, call NYPL Premium Services, the New York State Library (518-474-5355), the New York Historical Society, etc.

Reports: Reports from recent years are posted by the Senate and Assembly. Older reports can be found in the New York State Legislative Documents Series, discussed in the "Hearings" section, above. Some reports are published in McKinney's and/or CLS Session Laws. Note: Reports are written for very few bills.

Session Laws: Individual New York State laws (the NY equivalent of Federal "Public Laws") are called "session laws," "chapter laws," or just "chapters." They are published in McKinney's Session Laws and CLS Session Laws. Alternatively, you can get NY session laws back to 1987 from Westlaw (NY-LEGIS for laws from the current year; NY-LEGIS-OLD for older laws), back to 1992 from Lexis (NY;CLS19xx or NY;CLS20xx) or back to 1777 from the New York Legislative Service. For more information about session laws, see the separate entry for "New York State - Legislative Branch - Statutes."

Votes: Votes are recorded in the Senate and Assembly Journals, discussed above. They may included in the Bill Tracking Record, also discussed above. Westlaw includes votes in its NY-LH and NY-VOTES databases.


To research the legislative history of an amendment to the New York Constitution, see "New York State - Constitutional Amendments."


Research Guides: For more information on doing your own New York State legislative history research, see William Manz's "If It's Out There: Researching Legislative Intent in New York," N.Y. St. B. J., Mar./Apr. 2005 and/or Eric Kaufman's "Ten Steps to a Legislative History," Law Lines, 22:3 May/June 1998. See also Gibson's New York Legal Research Guide 3rd by William H. Manz, Legislative Intent in New York State by Robert Carter and/or the New York chapter of Legislative Intent Research: A 50-State Guide, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as the online guides referenced in the New York section of State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web.

{Special credit: Most of the information in this entry was provided by Eric Kaufman, Assistant Director of Research & Knowledge Management Services at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and William H. Manz, Senior Research Librarian at St. John's University School of Law. I am indebted to both of them them for their contributions.}

See Also
Bill Jackets
New York State - Constitutional Amendments
New York State - Legislative Branch - Bills
New York State - Legislative Branch - Statutes
State Legislative History

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman