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Illinois Legal Research: Legislative History

Legislative History

Legislative history refers both to the chronology of events that take place as a bill goes through the legislative process and the statements and documents generated during that process.  This page discusses the steps in researching an Illinois legislative history.

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Here's a quick checklist for compiling Illinois legislative history:

  1. Illinois Compiled Statutes citation
  2. Public Act number
  3. Law review citations
  4. Bill number and G.A. number
  5. History (Legislative Synopsis & Digest)
  6. Chamber of origin Committee
  7. Committee meetings (tape)
  8. Committee report (Journals)
  9. Second reading (date/legislative day)
  10. Third reading (date/legislative day)
  11. Amendments (Journals)
  12. Second chamber Committee
  13. Committee meetings (tape)
  14. Committee report (Journals)
  15. Second reading (date/legislative date)
  16. Third reading (date/legislative day)
  17. Amendments (Journals)
  18. Conference committee report (Journals)
  19. Governor's action (Journals)
  20. Sponsor(s)
  21. Newspapers
  22. State Archives

Other Sources

If the official sources described above are inconclusive or insufficient,you may find secondary sources useful. Caution should be used in relying on these unofficial sources, since the courts may not find them authoritative.

Legislative Sponsors.  Legislators may retain files that contains letters, memos, and other documents describing the passage of a bill. Consult the State of Illinois Telephone Directory or the State Executive Directory for phone numbers.

Law Review Articles.  Someone else may already have done the research on the bill in question. Look for law review citations in the annotated versions of the Illinois Compiled Statutes by West and Michie or on Legal-Trac under the name of the statute.

Newspapers.  The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin are the most likely newspaper sources of legislative intent information. An index to and backfiles of the Tribune are located in the Newspaper Library (located in the tunnel between the Undergrad Library and the Main Library basement). The Legal-Trac CD indexes the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and the Law Library has backfiles on microfilm.

Illinois State Archives.  Although the odds are slim of finding substantive legislative history information here, you may wish to contact the Illinois State Archives staff if your research has thus far been in vain. Submit your request by phone (217-782-4866) or mail (Illinois State Archives, Reference Services, Archives Building, Springfield, 62756) and provide the Public Act number. This a free service.  For more information on the Archives, see the official site below.


When a statute is vaguely worded or key statutory terms are undefined, attorneys and others try to determine exactly what the General Assembly intended the law to mean by investigating the legislative history of the law.  The records of the legislative process may contain remarks by the sponsor(s) of the legislation as to his/her/their intent in introducing the bill and the comments of other legislators regarding their understanding of the bill's purpose.  Researchers of Illinois legislative intent are cautioned that it may not be possible to locate clear statements in the materials described in this guide because legislators frequently do not explain their intent or understanding in published sources.


Sponsors and other legislators may comment on the bill during its second and third reading. Use the dates given in the the Indexes to the Debates (Location:  Lower Level, Microforms Room). The debates, which are on microfiche, contain a transcript of what is said on the floor of the House and Senate; they represent the most substantive remarks on legislative intent. For some years, you may need to convert the calendar day to a legislative day; consult the conversion table in the back of the appropriate debate index volume for this information. Because the Indexes are published after the end of the session, you may need to use the Legislative Synopsis and Digest for dates of consideration for a bill in the current session of the General Assembly.

Committee Actions

Following introduction, bills are referred to a committee based on the subject of the bill. The committee recommends to the full chamber whether or not the bill should be enacted. These committee reports appear in the Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the House of Representatives:

Most reports are noteworthy only for their brevity and lack of substantive comment. Some do contain more useful information, however, and for this reason they should be reviewed. Use the Record of Bills index in the last volume of both the House and Senate Journals for the appropriate General Assembly; look under the columns labeled "Report of Committee" and "Other Proceedings."

Conference committee reports (included with "Other Proceedings") are usually more valuable sources for determining legislative intent than committee reports from either chamber. When the House and Senate cannot agree on specific language in a bill, the conference committee attempts to reconcile the differences. The conference report then may contain explanations of these differences and reasoning behind the compromise language. Many bills become law without having gone through a conference committee, however.

Since the mid-1970's, House committee meetings have been recorded on audiotapes. The Law Library does not have a collection of these tapes but individual tapes may be ordered from the House Transcribing Clerk for a fee (217-782-8100). You may place an order by phone (provide the bill number and/or Public Act number) and your address; the tape and the invoice will be mailed to you.

Gubernatorial Actions

The Governor may influence how a law is implemented and perceived through the use of an approval statement, amendatory veto, or veto message. These messages and statements appear in the Laws of Illinois (before the text of the Public Act) or in the Journals (look under "Governor" in the "Index of Subjects"). Thorough researchers should check both the session laws and the journals. Gubernatorial vetoes of bills that are not overridden by the General Assembly may be informative if a similar bill is introduced in the following session.

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