WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE HISTORY AND LEGISLATIVE INTENT
Legislative history is the written and spoken record of bills, from their inception in the Legislature, and, if passed, to their approval by the governor. Legislative history also may include vetoes and other action by the governor. If a bill is still in committee at the end of a session, it dies and its history ends there for the session or entire two-year Legislature.
Legislative intent is the purpose of a bill or an act. Intent is useful when the language of the bill or act is unclear or ambiguous. Legislative history is used for discovering sources of information about the intent of the bill or act.
Legislative history may be found in the following materials:
1. Revised Code of Washington (RCW)
Refer to the history note enclosed in brackets following the text of each code section. The note contains references to the original enactment and each amendment, if any, by year and Session Law citation. For a complete history of the RCW section, a separate search must be done for each year and session cited.
RCW online at:
2. Laws of Washington (Session Laws)
Consult the session laws to find the bill number and to determine the year that changes in the law were made. The bill number is listed after the chapter number. Deletions are indicated by a strike-out; additions are underlined.
3. Legislative Journals
The Journals are divided into sections for each chamber, one for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate. Each section contains a subject index to locate bills and a table to track the history of action in that chamber. The references in the tables include floor debates, committee action and actions by the governor.
Other items to note in the journals are the sponsors of a bill, the committee to which it is assigned, amendments either in committee or on the floor, and records of votes. Of particular importance are references to "Point of Inquiry" which are actual records of floor debates between members.
4. Floor Debates
Often the phrase "Debate ensued" appears in the proceeding of the House or Senate. Recordings of floor debates are available from the State Archives; coverage of tapes runs from about 1983 to the immediate past legislature.
5. Committee Files
Committee bill files contain important information such as correspondence, testimony, bill reports, study results, staff memos and any other matter that the committee needed when it considered the bill. Files are kept by the committees for the current and the immediate past Legislature; committees may be contacted directly for materials. The State Archives maintains the older files and arranges them by committee name, year, and bill number. Files are available from the early 1970's to the most recently completed Legislature.
Like the files, committee tapes are available from the committee for the current and the immediate past Legislature. The State Archives has other tapes from about 1983.
6. Papers of the Governor
Former governors' papers include those relating to legislative activity and are collected and stored at Archives. Because coverage of committee bill files begins as late as 1970, governors' papers prior to that date are available and may be useful for history purposes when no committee files exist.
7. Final Legislative Report, (1975- )
Additional sources are:
Some researchers have compared the successive changes in the language of a bill, from the original (printed) bill through its amendments to its final language, as a factor in establishing a pattern of intent. However, the language of a bill may change during the legislative process for reasons other than conscious and deliberative efforts.
Bills since 1985 may be reviewed online at:
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ See: “Detailed Legislative Reports” and then “Advanced Search” for pre-2003 bills
2. Revised Code of Washington - Legislative Finding
Since the early 1970's the Legislature has added a prefatory section called "Legislative Finding" or "Purpose" to certain bills. Such sections are official statements of the Legislature. These sections are codified along with the other parts of the law.
Sand's Sutherland on Statutory Construction. Refer to Sutherland and similar treatises on this subject for general principles of construing statutes.
Wang, Arthur C., "Legislative History in Washington," 7 Univ. Puget Sound L. Rev. 571 (1984). The author, a former Washington legislator, considers the courts' role in using legislative history.
Post-enactment statements. Caution should be exercised when using news articles, speeches, and statements by legislators and other officials after a bill is approved by the governor. They are not generally used for developing legislative history and are not relied upon by courts.
Note.—See our “Internet Legal Research Guide” for further information; an interactive edition is available at the Library’s website.