Library Navigation

Skip Navigation LinksLegislature > Legislative History Guide

For a detailed list of publications for legislative history research, see Legislative History - Location of Materials

  • Legislative Reference Library (LRL)
    645 State Office Building
    (651) 296-3398
  • Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) Library
    345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
    Reference Desk
    (651) 259-3300
    MHS Legislative History Guide

Minnesota Legislative History - Step by Step

Library staff assistance should not be construed as a substitute for professional legal research aid.

Introduction to Legislative History: An Overview

The primary sources of information for legislative history research are the recordings of House and Senate committee hearings and floor sessions. Full online access to these records is available from 2004 to the present. Prior to 2004, selected Internet coverage is available: House audio/video since 1998, Senate audio/video since 2001).

Prior to 2005, the hearings were recorded on cassette tapes. The Legislative Reference Library houses the more recent materials and the Minnesota Historical Society Library (MHS) keeps the older materials. For older bills, where recordings are not available, the House and Senate Committee Minutes are the primary sources of information available for legislative intent research. Older minutes are available at the MHS Library. Since 1995, preliminary legislative history research can be completed online; prior to 1995 printed legislative materials must be used.

Legislative History Step by Step

  • Identify the Minnesota Statutes you want to research.
  • Find the History note at the end of the Minnesota Statutes section.
    The citations are to the Laws of Minnesota/Minnesota Session Laws. The abbreviations are c=chapter, art=article, s=section.
  • Go to the Laws of Minnesota (also referred to as Minnesota Session Laws) for each year listed.
    Look up the appropriate chapter (c), article (art), and section (s) numbers listed after each year in the history section to determine which year(s) the language you are interested in has been amended. New language is underlined while deleted language is crossed out. Continue through the history section references checking each year until you've identified when your language was added/deleted. If you are using the online Minnesota Statutes, click on the hypertext links in the history section and they will link directly to the Laws of Minnesota from each year.
  • Look at the beginning of the chapter to locate the Senate File (S.F.) or House File (H.F.) number in the chapter heading.
    This is your bill number. If your bill passed prior to 1995, go to Step 6. If your bill passed after 1994, go to Step 5.
    Session Law
  • Find committees and floor debates (after 1994).
    Find the "History and Authors" link in the red column on the right side of the page in the online version of the chapter of Session Laws that you are researching. Click on it to find the actions taken on the bill in the House and the Senate. Sidebar Navigation: History and Authors Link
  • Find committees and floor debates (before 1994).
    Retrieve the index volume of the House or Senate Journal for the appropriate year. Please note, each index covers a biennium (two year period). If you know the House File number you will use the House Journal index; if you know the Senate File number you will use the Senate Journal index.
    Journal Page
    Definitions of the terms used in the Journals can be found in the Glossary for the Numerical Index of the House and Senate Journals. See Using the House and Senate Journals for further help in using the Journals.
  • Write down all relevant actions.
    The number in the "First Reading and Reference" column refers to the page where the bill was introduced. Turn to that page and note which committee the bill was referred to. Continue to look up the remaining page numbers and write down all relevant actions and the dates they occurred, which can be found at the top of the Journal page. Relevant information includes names of committees, floor amendments (write down the date located at the top of the Journal page), and conference committee action (if applicable).
  • Research the companion bill.
    Return to the index volume. Use the Companion Numbers/Bills index to see if a companion bill exists. If so, go back to Step 6 and repeat the process using the companion bill number. Once this is done, go to either the "Senate Record of House Bills" index or the "Numerical Index of Senate Bills Transmitted to the House" index in the Journal index you've just used and look up the actions taken on the original bill number (identified in Step 4).
  • Determine hearing dates.
    Proceed to the Legislative Reference Library (645 State Office Building, 8 am - 4:30 pm, Monday - Friday) or the Minnesota Historical Society Library to review committee books/minutes to determine the exact hearing dates.
  • Listen to/watch the hearings, if recordings exist. If you are listening to the sessions of the full House or Senate, floor logs may exist.

Research Tips

Committee Minutes

When audio and/or video of committee hearings are unavailable, minutes are the primary records of committee actions. The amount of detail provided by committee minutes varies among committees and from year to year. Even when minutes lack detail, they can provide clues to why legislation was passed.

  • The minutes may indicate that a bill before the committee was the product of a task force, commission, or work group set up to study the issue. The report might be appended to the minutes or be available at the Legislative Reference Library or the Minnesota Historical Society. Librarians at both locations can help you search their collections; you can also search MNPALS, the online catalog which includes both collections.
  • Attachments to the minutes may prove helpful. There may be reports, brochures, handouts, bill summaries, or copies of individuals' testimonies.
  • The minutes may indicate that the bill was based on legislation passed in another state, leading to further avenues for research.

Additional tips

  • Check Minnesota Statutes Annotated (West Publishing) for references to law review articles or case law written on the relevant section of the statutes.
  • Consult issues of Session Weekly (1995-present) from the Minnesota House of Representatives or Senate Briefly (1995-2009) from the Minnesota Senate for the year you are researching. Both publications summarize their respective committees' discussions and floor actions on a weekly basis during Session. Issues from 1985 to the present are available at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.
  • Consult news coverage from the year you are researching. The Minnesota Historical Society retains copies of all Minnesota newspapers. The Legislative Reference Library has extensive news clipping files from 1969 to the present, by topic and by legislative district.
  • Check any personal papers that may have been donated to the Minnesota Historical Society from the individuals and groups involved/interested in the legislation.
  • Be certain you are researching the correct year. The legislature sometimes moves language from one section of statutes to another section. It is possible that the language you are researching, or similar language, may have existed previously in a different section of Minnesota Statutes.
  • Check for other bills that were introduced on this topic, then check to see if they had hearings. This can be extremely helpful when researching omnibus bills. It's also possible for an issue to be discussed over several years before actually passing. For these issues it may be useful to research years prior to the passage of the legislation.

Note: The Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) Library also has an in-depth guide on legislative history research. The House of Representatives' April 30, 1999, issue of Session Weekly featured an article on researching legislative history, "Step-by-step study uncovers the stories behind laws." The article, beginning on page 16, includes tips and examples.

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, 645 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN  55155