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California Legislative History: Bills

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.

Locating Assembly and Senate Bills

Once you have identified the bill's number and when it was introduced and amended, the next step is to locate each version of the bill. Most bills are amended multiple times as they pass through the legislature. Comparing versions of the bill can help you discover when specific language was added and what alternatives were considered.

For bills from 1991 forwards, check:

Libraries have scanned and posted older bills on HathiTrust and Google Books. For complete lists of bills by year, see:

Older bills are also available from the library in print or microfiche:

Reading a Bill

Introduction to the Bill

Each bill starts with basic information about the bill, beginning with a list of amendments to the bill (if any) followed by the session, the bill number, the author, the date of introduction, and the title.

The information about the bill is followed by the Legislative Counsel's Digest. The Legislative Counsel are attorneys who help legislators draft the text of bills and prepare digests for each bill- short explanations of how the bill changes existing law. The digest is extremely helpful for understanding the impact of the bill but it is not part of the bill itself. When citing the bill, you should cite the text of the bill, beginning after the words "The people of the State of California do enact as follows:"

Text of the Bill

To read the text of a bill, start with the first draft of the bill as introduced and work your way forwards:

  • In the first bill draft, text that is added to the existing statute is indicated in italics. Text that is being deleted from the existing statute is crossed out.
  • In subsequent bill drafts, text that is added from the previous bill is indicated in italics. Text that is being deleted from the previous bill is crossed out. 

On the legislature's current website:

  • Added text is displayed in blue italics and deleted text is crossed out in red. 
  • The Version dropdown in the upper right corner toggles between different versions of the bill. After selecting a version, use the Text tab to view that version of the bill or the Compare Versions tab to compare it to other versions.

Unusual Types of Bills

Sometimes you will notice that a bill does not appear to do anything or completely changes topic midway through the legislative process. Usually, this is an attempt by a legislator to avoid California's deadline for introducing bills, typically set in mid to late February of each year. Legislators have developed two key techniques to dodge the deadline:

  • A spot bill is a bill that makes no substantive changes to the law. Common changes made by spot bills including changing that to which and vice versa, adding or removing commas, or changing "he" to "she." Legislators introduce spot bills before the deadline, then "amend" them if they have any additional ideas for legislation after the deadline.
  • A gut and amend occurs when a legislator takes a bill that failed, removes all of its content (i.e. guts it), and inserts their own new, unrelated bill. If you run across a bill that suddenly changes topic, you can ignore any history materials prior to the gut and amend.

In the classic example of a "spot" bill below, a legislator has introduced a bill that deletes the words known and cited (crossed out text) and replaces them with the words known, and cited, (italicized text), adding two commas to the existing statute. The Legislative Counsel's Digest notes that the bill makes "technical, nonsubstantive changes" to the law. 

Print Bill

Online Bill

The print and online versions of the bill are virtually identical. For easier reading, deleted text is crossed out in red and added text is indicated in blue italics.

In the classic example of a "gut and amend" bill below, a legislator has deleted all of the prior text dealing with tuberculosis screenings (crossed out text) and replaced it with completely unrelated text dealing with public contracts (italicized text).

Because the bill has been amended, the beginning of the bill lists all of the dates of amendment. The list tell us that we are looking at the version of the bill as amended September 2, 2011 and that there are three previous versions of the bill: the originally introduced version, the version amended March 22, 2011, and the version amended June 16, 2011.

Because this bill makes substantive changes to the law, the Legislative Counsel's Digest is much longer than it was for the spot bill, running for over a page. The text of the bill itself does not start until page 3.

 

To compare two versions of a bill on the California legislature's website:

  • In the dropdown in the upper right corner, select the version of the bill you would like to view and click "Go."

If you would simply like to view that version of the bill, click the Text tab.

If you would also like to compare it to another version of the bill:

  • Click the "Compare Versions" tab.
  • In the dropdown under the Compare Versions tab, select the version you would like to compare with the bill you are viewing and click "Compare Versions."