This guide describes how to conduct Washington State legislative research using the paper materials available in our libraries and the online resources you can use to supplement our collection. Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:
Paper Materials Available in the Law Library
Hard copy of Washington State legislative history material is available from the mid-1970s to the present. These provide a good starting point for your research within this time frame. Outside this time frame, ask at the reference desk for help or consult with the Washington State Archives in Olympia.
Finding the Bill Number
The key to locating legislative history is the bill number. To find the bill number, start with the law in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) that you wish to research. At the end of the law, there is bracketed statutory history. This bracketed citation should include a year, session or special session, chapter, and a section.
Example: [1999 c 42 § 313]
Multiple citations indicate that there have been amendments to the law (and therefore separate bills). You may need to research the original legislation as well as any amendments when compiling the legislative history of a bill.
Example: [1993 c 471 § 33; 1985 c 30 § 127; 1967 ex.s. c 53 § 13. Formerly RCW 19.10.130]
Armed with the year, special session (if any), chapter, and section of the original law and any amendments, proceed to the Laws of Washington. This set is organized by year and session. Locate the appropriate volume for each citation you are tracking. Within each volume, look for the law by its chapter number. The House or Senate bill number is listed directly under the chapter number at the beginning of the law.
Example: CHAPTER 471
[Second Substitute Senate Bill 5237]
Once You Know the Bill Number
There are a variety of sources to check for legislative history. Not all bills are in all the materials, so you should consult more than one source.
First look your bill number up in the Final Legislative Report dated the year your bill passed. The Law Library has this series from 1981 forward. For each bill, this official publication, written by committee staff and based on committee bill reports, will provide background, summary, votes on final passage, effective date, and any veto message.
Next look at both the House Journal and the Senate Journal for the year and session your bill passed. The bill table at the back of the final volume for each session lists pages where each bill is mentioned. These journals contain points of inquiry, texts of amendments and substitutions and dates of floor action. Be aware that transcriptions of any floor debates on the bill are omitted from these sources.
You can then check either the House Bills or Senate Bills for any additions or deletions made to the bill during the legislative process. These sets are organized by year and bill number.
Finally, look for your bill in The State of Washington Legislative Record. This publication contains the Legislative Digest and History of Bills. It will give you a brief history and summary of every bill it covers from 1970 onward. It is also a good resource for determining the reporting committees on a given bill.
Print Materials and the Washington State Archives
For bills introduced in the last two years, you will want to contact the reporting committees for copies of the bill files. Contact information for House, Senate, and Joint committees can be found on the Washington State Legislature web site under Legislative Committees, or you can call the Journal Clerks we’ve listed below to request committee phone numbers.
For print materials older than two years, you will want to contact the Washington State Archives in Olympia. Their resources include bill files and committee tapes dating back to the mid-1970s. Before that, The State Archive’s holdings of bill files are increasingly rare, although materials do still exist. For a fee, the State Archives will send copies of bill files and committee tapes. Once again, if you are looking for legislation enacted within the last two years, you will want to contact the appropriate reporting committee.
If you wish to request floor action of the House or the Senate on tape, you will need to do that through the respective Journal Clerks. To request a tape, you will need the bill number and the date of the hearing before calling the Journal Clerks. Specific dates can typically be obtained from the printed House Journals and Senate Journals. Senate tapes are available back to 1971 and House tapes are available back to 1969.
Online Materials at the Washington State Legislature’s Web Site
The Washington State Legislature’s web site has historical materials dating all the way back to 1854.
Legislative history for bills introduced from the most recent 3 bienniums can be researched from the Legislature’s Bill Information page.
For information from 1991 through the current year, visit the Legislature’s Detailed Legislative Reports page. From there, use the Biennium drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the page to select the year of the bill, then type the bill number into the Bill Number field on the left-hand side of the page. Click the Continue button to proceed. Pending legislation can be tracked here as well.
For information from 1985-present, click on the Search (Documents) link in the Detailed Legislative Reports page and scroll to the bottom. This search feature allows you to look for bills, budget bills, bill histories, and amendments from 1985-present, bill analysis reports from 1987-present, and roll call votes from 1991-present, among other things.
Archived materials from the reporting committees (dating back to 1999 in many cases) can also be found on the Legislative Committees page of the Legislature’s web site. The materials can be found under the links for each respective committee.
Online Materials from Other Web Sites
Washington State Digital Archives has many Audio Records that are searchable, including (but not limited to) House of Representatives Committee Meeting Recordings from 1973-2002 and Office of the Secretary of Senate Floor Recordings from 1971-2010.
Additional Online Legislative History Research Guides
- The University of Washington Gallagher Law Library’s guide on Washington State Legislative History.
- The Gonzaga University School of Law’s Washington Legislative History Research Guide.
- The Washington State Law Library’s guide on Washington Legislative History and Legislative Intent.
- The Washington State Bar Association’s brochure on How a Bill Becomes a Law.
In addition to any research you do in the Law Library or online, you may find it worthwhile to contact the following offices:
- Washington State Archives (360) 586-1492
- Legislative Information Center (360) 786-7573
- House Journal Clerk (360) 786-7790
- Senate Journal Clerk (360) 786-7579
Washington Legislative History Research Process AT A GLANCE
This handy infographic lays out the four basic steps for the legislative history process.
Links Updated: March 2020