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Zimmerman's Research Guide


Massachusetts Legislative History

  1. Sources for Massachusetts Legislative History
  2. Research Firms
  3. Research Guides

I. Sources for Massachusetts Legislative History

There are three places to get Massachusetts legislative history materials:

(1) Online. The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website is the main site for Massachusetts legislative history materials. This is free and readily available, so get what you can. The site has Session Laws and a Session Law Index (covering enacted bills 1997-present), Bills and related Legislative Status Reports (from the 2009/10 session to the present), and House and Senate Journals starting with the 162nd Session (2001-02) for the House, and March 12, 1998 for the Senate.

Older session laws are available free through the Acts and Resolves (1790-1996) page posted by the Massachusetts Archives, or through HeinOnline (subscription required). Session laws are searchable on Westlaw back to 1987 (MA-LEGIS-OLD). The Journals are searchable on Westlaw in the MA-LH database (House from 2001, Senate from 1998 and Joint Sessions from 2000).

One more: The New England Law School library posts the Reports of the Legislative Research Council (1900-1988).

(2) The Massachusetts Archives. The Massachusetts Archives has Governor's Packets, your best bet for finding legislative intent, as well as Legislative Packets, comprised of basic legislative documents such as bill drafts and amendments, and occasionally more. Governor's packets are available for bills introduced from 1964 to about five years ago. Legislative Packets are available from 1775. These materials are not online and the Archives does not make copies; if you aren't in the area, you can get copies by hiring one of the research firms listed below. For questions, call the Archives at 617-727-2816 and ask for the Legislative Reference Desk.

(3) The State Library of Massachusetts (617-727-2590). The State Library has older session laws, House and Senate Journals, bill drafts and amendments not available online. They also have an in-house Index to Legislative Reports compiled by the staff, recordings of House and Senate proceedings starting in 1980, a system called Instatract with testimony transcripts, videos of hearings, legislative news sources, etc. The State Library does not make copies; if you aren't in the area, you can get copies from the State Library by hiring one of the research firms listed below.

II. Research Firms

Several firms regularly retrieve legislative history materials from the Massachusetts Archives and the State Library including Carol Wilkinson Support Services (617-426-6070, info@cwlegal.net), Beacon Hill Research (617-426-0550, request@beaconhillresearch.com), AccuFile (617-728-3500, contact@accufile.com) and Eva Murphy (617-504-9228, or legisearch@gmail.com). In addition, the Massachusetts State Library keeps a list of research firms and you can request the list by sending an email to reference.department@massmail.state.ma.us.

III. Research Guides

To learn more about Massachusetts Legislative History, see the "Massachusetts Legislative Procedure and History" chapter of Handbook of Legal Research in Massachusetts (MCLE New England). Online guides include Massachusetts Legal History by the Social Law Library, Massachusetts Legislative History by the State Library, and the video A Guide to Tracing Massachusetts Legislative History, also by the State Library.

See Also
Maryland - Legislative Branch
State Legislative History

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