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California Legislative History

This guide provides an overview of California legislative history materials available at Rains Library, as well as a how-to guide to perform your own legislative history.

Legislative Sessions

The California Legislature commences a new session every two years. A session begins in December of an even-numbered year, and continues over the next two years.

Legislative sessions are referred to by the years they convene, for example, the 1993-94 session. For reference purposes, although the legislature is elected in November and convenes in December, the legislative clock begins ticking in January. 

For an overview of California legislative sessions from 1849 to 2000 including convening dates, adjourning dates, and length of session, see:

Legislative Process and Documentation

This guide presents an overview of the legislative process. The left-hand column describes stages in the legislative process, while the right-hand column lists the documents created at each stage.

The material below is based on Chapter 2 of:

Introduction of Bill

To introduce a bill, a legislator presents a request to the Office of Legislative Counsel. The Office of Legislative Counsel then drafts a bill proposal and the bill is introduced in the Assembly or Senate.

Citizen groups, individuals, and/or lobbyists may submit documents in support of or in opposition to legislation.

Documents Created:

-Draft Statutes
-Committee transcripts
-Agency analysis (May be available in Assembly or Senate Journals)

Consideration by Policy Committee

Once a bill is introduced, it is referred to a standing committee. Standing committees are those committees with the authority to vote on a bill.   The California Senate has 23 standing committees, including committees on Budget & Fiscal Review, Health, and Environmental Quality, while the California Assembly has 30 standing committees.

To guide the committee in its decision, a committee consultant prepares an critical assessment of the bill that is read before the vote. This document is called a committee analysis.

The policy committee votes on the bill, and can recommend that a bill is passed or should be passed with amendments.

Documents Created:

Documents listed above, as well as:

-Official committee analyses.

Consideration by Fiscal Committee

If a bill will incur a given financial burden on the State General Fund, the bill will be forwarded to the fiscal committee for consideration.  The fiscal committee reviews the bill and votes on it separately.

Documents Created:

Documents listed above, including official committee analyses.

Floor Debate

If the committee votes to pass the bill, the bill proceeds to the floor for consideration.

Documents Created:

-Floor analyses

Consideration by Second House

If a bill successfully passes the first house committees and floor votes, the bill will proceed to the other house. (E.g., if it was introduced in the Senate, it would go to the Assembly and vice versa.)

The committee process then begins anew in the second house.  If a bill is passed out of committee, it will proceed for debate and votes on the floor.

If the two houses agree on the language of the final bill, it will then proceed to the governor for signature.  However, in many cases, the houses will have proposed amendments that cause the two bills to differ from one another.  If this is the case, a joint house conference committee is called.

Documents Created:
-Official floor analyses
-Floor statement by author
-State agency analyses

Joint House Conference Committee (Optional)

If the original house does not accept amendments made by the second house, a joint house conference committee is held. The committee consists of three members of each house who work together to create compromises.  Both houses then vote on the committee’s report.

Documents Created:

-Official floor analyses
-Floor statement
-State agency analyses

Review by Governor

If a bill passes votes in both houses, it proceeds to the governor, who has 12 days to consider the bill.  If the governor fails to sign or veto the bill within 12 days, the bill becomes law.

If the governor vetoes a bill, it can still become law with a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature.

Documents Created:

-Correspondence about bill
-Enrolled bill reports
-Press release from Governor’s office
-Signing Statement (if applicable)
-Veto message (if applicable)


The completed law is published in Statutes of California and Digest of Measures and assigned a chapter number according to the chronological order it was passed.

The Statutes of California citation will look like this:

Stats. 1978 c. 458

Documents Created:

Session law, published in Statutes of California and Digest of Measures


Following publication, the new law will be organized by topic and arranged with other laws on the same subject in an annotated code.

West’s Annotated California Codes
Citation format: Cal. <subject> Code §  <number> (West <year>)  
Example: Cal. Labor Code § 230 (West 2009).

Deering’s California Codes (LexisNexis)
Citation format: Cal. <subject> Code § <number> (Deering <year>) 
Example: Cal. Labor Code § 230 (Deering 2009).

Documents Created: 

-Annotated Codes


Secondary Analysis

Legal scholars and other commentators may write on the bill and its passage at a later date. Law reviews and journal articles may be helpful for locating additional commentary on the subject.

Documents Created:

-Law review articles
-Newspaper articles
-Other commentary