This web page explains how to conduct research. The suggestions
contained in this explanation do not constitute legal advice.
The terms "legislative
history" and "legislative intent" are often used
interchangeably by researchers whose goal is to determine the intent
of a particular bill or specific language enacted by the General
Assembly of Virginia. (If you are interested in tracking the progress
of a bill through the General Assembly, including seeing all printed
versions of the bill and amendments thereto, use the Legislative
Information System bill tracking database).
Virginia does not keep
official legislative history, like that which can be found at the
congressional level. We do not have transcripts of floor debates
or committee discussions about a bill, nor are standing committee
reports issued which explain or state the purpose for proposals.
That being understood,
however, there are a few ways researchers can attempt to glean the
legislative intent of particular pieces of legislation:
I. Check for legislative
studies on the topic.
the legislative draft file of the bill.
videotapes of floor proceedings.
IV. Use other
Specially appointed subcommittees,
permanent commissions, or state agencies are often charged with
studying particular topics and reporting the findings and/or recommendations
to the General Assembly and the Governor. To search the database
of studies reported, go to the List
of Legislative Studies: House and Senate Documents. If you wish
to obtain a copy of a study report, contact the Legislative Bill
Room, General Assembly Building, Basement, Richmond, Virginia 23219,
LEGISLATIVE DRAFT FILES
Legislative draft (LD)
files are created by the Division of Legislative Services' staff
when the request to draft a bill is received. The files may (or
may not) contain the following:
- Final draft of the bill
- Copies showing substantive
- Bill request
- Correspondence between
DLS staff and the requester
- Background information
or materials which explain the proposal
Release of LD
There are a couple of
caveats regarding release of the LD files, which are governed by
Code § 30-28.18.
- All files created prior
to 1989 are confidential and can only be released with permission
of the requester*. If he or she is deceased, then the file is
- Files from 1989 to the
present are open to the public if the bill was enacted into law.
Legislative draft files for failed bills can only be released
with permission of the requester*.
*The requester is the
legislator who requested the bill draft. The chief patron is the
legislator who introduced the bill and whose name appears just on
the face of the bill. Though the requester is usually the chief
patron, that is not always the case.
Requesting a Legislative
To request access to an
LD file from the Legislative Reference Center, you need to know
the bill number (or chapter of the Acts of Assembly) and year of
the legislation. Remember that the LD files are created for specific
bills; there is no legislative history for entire Code
The amount of research
you need to do before requesting the LD file depends on the amount
of information you are starting with:
- If you know only conceptually
what the law is about, then search the Code of Virginia to determine
the Code section (e.g., § 55-331).
- Locate the parenthetical
reference at the end of the section, which provides a "map"
to the amendments to that section.
§ 8-906; 1952, c. 658; 1968, c. 251; 1977, c. 624; 1993,
For example, the
above citation means that section existed prior to the Virginia
Code of 1950 (i.e., the current version of the Code), was
amended in 1952 by chapter 658 of the Acts of Assembly, etc.
- Backtrack through each
amendment in the Acts until you see the wording you are interested
in appear in italics. That signifies language that was
added. Conversely, language which appears as
through was deleted.
- Locate the bill number
in brackets at the top right, underneath the title of the Act
(e.g., [H 1408]).
- Contact the Legislative
Reference Center at (804) 786-3591 with the information about
the bill. Staff will check the file and let you know if it contains
any background notes, memoranda, correspondence, or any other
materials which would provide even a hint of original intent.
Written request for access to LD file may be required. Allow five
(5) working days for a response to your request. Files which are
confidential and require permission before releasing may take
up to a month's turnaround time.
throughout this process: Virginia does not collect or maintain
legislative history. Looking for a "needle in a haystack"
in the legislative draft files is as close as researchers can come
to determining intent. However, it must be clearly understood that
anything found in the LD files provides only an indication of the
intent of the person who requested that the bill be drafted. By
the time the bill is enacted, it has gone through the complex legislative
process, often incorporating many changes from time the original
version was drafted. The intent of the General Assembly
in passing the bill is generally not recorded, and if it is, it
is printed on the face of the bill or referenced in the Code of
Video recordings of proceedings
on the House and Senate floor are available for viewing or purchase
a while after adjournment. For more information, please call the
House Clerk's office at 804-698-1619 or the Senate Clerk's office
Other possible means of
discovering background information about a bill or code section
- Reviewing the Fiscal
Impact Statement, if applicable. These statements are prepared
by the Department of Planning and Budget or another state agency
and contain a summary of the legislation, the anticipated cost
to the state, and other pertinent information. They are available
through the Legislative Reference Center or appropriate Clerk's
- Looking in the major
Virginia newspapers for articles which may have been written explaining
the proposal during the General Assembly session (January - March).
- Searching for Attorney
General opinions on the topic.
- Researching Virginia
law review articles on point.