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Illinois Legislative History Research: Home

Overview of Sources & Coverage

Legislative history consists of all the documentation produced during the legislative process, including bills, debates, reports and hearings. Researchers look to legislative history when the meaning of a statute is unclear. In so doing, they wish to discern what the legislature intended when enacting the statute. However, legislative history research is time consuming and often futile, in that there may be no discussion at all of the statutory language in question. Therefore, it is usually a last resort when there are no other sources of law (i.e. case law or regulatory law) that interpret the statute. This is commonly the case with recently enacted legislation.

Case Law

Always check the annotations to case law in one of the annotated versions of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) to find cases that have interpreted your statute. There are two such annotated sets: West’s Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated (KFI1230 .A473 - 9th Fl.) and Michie’s Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated (KFI1230. A462 - 9th Fl.). To be even more thorough, you can also shepardize a statutory provision using the Statutes volumes of Shepard’s Illinois Citations. (KFI1259 .S54 - 9th Fl.).

Regulatory Law

An agency’s interpretation of a statute may also help clarify its meaning. Be sure to check the Illinois Administrative Code (IAC). The Joint Committee of Administrative Rules (JCAR) publishes an electronic version of the IAC. A print version entitled Code of Illinois Rules is on the 9th floor of the Library. (KFI1235 .A49 - 9th Fl.).


Newspaper and journal articles related to the enactment of the law you are researching may also be quite helpful. The explanation of an author who is an expert in the field may be easier to understand than the statutory language itself. Articles from bar journals and law reviews, including the Illinois Bar Journal, CBA Record and Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, can be found by searching these materials full text via Westlaw or Lexis or by using the Legal Resource Index (LRI) also available via Westlaw or Lexis. Wilson’s Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP) indexes CBA Record and Illinois Bar Journal articles and is available via the Library website under “Quick Links”.

Statutes & Session Laws

Illinois legislative history differs from federal legislative history, in that it consists mostly of the text of the bills and laws themselves and any Illinois House and Senate floor debates that occurred during their passage. There are generally no detailed Committee Reports available and only House hearings are recorded but not transcribed. Typically, one starts by finding the text of the law in the current Illinois Compiled Statutes and the Illinois session laws.

The official publication of the Illinois session laws is entitled the Laws of the State of Illinois and is located on the 9th floor of the Library (KFI 1225 - 9th Fl.). This publication dates back to the inception of the State. It contains the text of the laws as first enacted in chronological, public act number order before the laws are codified (arranged by subject into a code). Illinois session laws (also called Public Acts) are also available electronically via Westlaw and Lexis and the ILGA website back to the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998). 

Older editions of the codified Illinois Statutes (now known as Illinois Compiled Statutes or ILCS) are also invaluable for tracking the evolution of statutory language.

Bills & Debates

As mentioned above, most of Illinois legislative history consists of all versions of the bill and any House and Senate floor debates about it. As mandated by the Illinois Constitution of 1970, publication of the debates began in 1971. Transcriptions of the debates were published in microfiche format from the 77th General Assembly (1971-1972) through the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998). House and Senate bills have also been published in fiche since 1979 starting with the 81st General Assembly. Transcripts of the debates from the 90th General Assembly (1997-1998) through the current the G. A. are available on CD ROM.

Transcripts from the current and earlier General Assemblies are now also available via the Illinois General Assembly website (ILGA) back to inception (the 77th General Assembly (1971-1972)). A step-by-step explanation of how to locate the debates via the ILGA website is contained on the Preliminary Steps and Using the ILGA website tabs of this Research Guide.

House & Senate Journals

In addition, if you wish to do thorough legislative history research, you should consult the House and Senate Journals. These Journals constitute an official record of the actions taken by the legislature. The House and Senate Journals contain the voting records for each bill, text of amendments, conference committee reports and motions. These Journals began publication in 1819. The Library’s holdings date back to 1961. They are arranged in date order on the 9th floor. (KFI1218 .I43 and KFI1218 .I44 - 9th Fl.). Digital copies are also available via the ILGA website from the 91st G.A. (1999-2000) to current.

The journals reflect all actions taken on the House (or Senate) floor each Legislative Day. The journals include the following kinds of information:

Bills Assigned to Committees
Committee Reports
Conference Committee Reports
Introduction of Bills and Constitutional Amendments
Resignations and Appointments
Resolutions and Joint Resolutions
Roll Calls
Rules Reports
Messages from the Governor, Comptroller, Secretary of State, and Treasurer

The ILGA website links to the House and Senate Journals contain a complete listing of the contents of these Journals.

Legislative Synopsis & Digest

The Legislative Synopsis and Digest dates from the 1900s and is also located on the 9th floor of the Library (KFI1207 - 9th Fl.). The Library’s print holdings date back to 1947. This publication contains summaries of the bills and all actions taken with respect to them. This bill status record is an indispensable tool for tracking the history of a bill before it was enacted into law. The Legislative Synopsis and Digest is published weekly in print. A final annual version is available in fiche. The Library has older editions in microfilm (1879-1987) and fiche (1987-1993). There can be a lag of several years in the print publication of the above titles. However, a digitized version of the Legislative Synopsis and Digest from the 84th G.A. (1985-6) to 2005 can be found by going to the Legislative Reference Bureau website. The University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also provides access to the Legislative Synopsis and Digest.


Lastly, House Committee hearings are recorded and archived on digital video disc (DVD) by the House Clerk. Copies may be obtained on DVD from the Clerk for a fee. Contact the Clerk's Office at (217) 782-8223. Senate Committee Hearings are not taped.

Request a Research Appointment

Need more help? Reference librarians are available to meet with students in one-on-one sessions (or in small groups) to discuss research strategies, recommend relevant resources or review specific topics of legal research. 

Contact with the subject you're researching and when you would like to meet. A librarian will get back to you to set up an appointment. You can also schedule an appointment on the library homepage by clicking "Schedule an Online Research Appointment." We ask that you request your appointment at least 2 days in advance, but remember that you can always stop by the reference desk for immediate help with a quick research question.