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Ghosthunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History
This Guide was written by Michael S. Miller, Director of the Maryland State Law Library, in 1998. The Library has retained his original text, but has added or updated hypertext links as appropriate. Researchers also may be interested in the Library's companion document, Checklist for Maryland Legislative History Research.
The title of this article was chosen advisedly: when you are trying to find
the legislative history of a particularly troublesome or cryptic Maryland statute,
you soon discover the spectral mists enveloping the past of almost any law.
Unhappily, there are few Maryland equivalents to the Congressional committee
reports, hearings, floor debate records, and other extrinsic aids to construing
But all is not hopeless. The checklist that follows, while not
purporting to be exhaustive, catalogs many of the materials Maryland courts have
consulted when they are attempting to ferret out the genesis or meaning of an
Two prerequisites of research into legislative history in Maryland are first,
understanding the legislative process and second, knowing where to look for the
materials. For assistance on the first, you should review two invaluable
guides prepared by the Department of Legislative Services. One is
the Maryland Legislator's Handbook, designed for new members of the
General Assembly and is completely revised at the beginning of each four-year
term of the Assembly; the other is Steps in Processing Legislation, a
primer for the legislative staff. As to the second prerequisite, locating
the sources, you will find that the most comprehensive collections of the
legislative record and other extrinsic aids are housed in the following three
Maryland Department of Legislative Services Library
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Maryland State Law Library
Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal
361 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
toll free # 1-888-216-8156
Maryland State Archives
360 Rowe Boulevard
P.O. Box 828
Smaller collections are found in law school libraries at the University of
Maryland and University of Baltimore, the Baltimore City Bar Library, the Maryland
Room at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Attorney General's Library in Baltimore,
and the Marylandia Department at the University of Maryland Library in College
Park. The three Annapolis libraries, plus the Enoch Pratt and College Park libraries,
are also the five major repositories for state publications.
- HISTORY SOURCES EMANATING FROM THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
a. Legislative Council of Maryland
- Reports to the General Assembly
The Legislative Council, which existed from 1939 through 1975, was
charged by the General Assembly with the study and investigation of
problems facing the State during legislative interims. The Council's
annual reports consist of a summary of proposals from members of the
General Assembly and the Council, the Governor, private organizations
and individuals, and state agencies, minutes of Council meetings, and
full-text copies of Council bills submitted to the next session of the
Legislature. Minutes from the late 1940's on refer to Council
files, some of which are in the Department of Legislative Services Library;
these files may contain more detail on particular Council recommendations.
- Research Reports
Between 1940 and 1958, the Research Division of the Legislative Council
produced 32 factual and legal studies of topics ranging from almshouses
to tax sales.
b. Legislative Policy Committee: Reports of Committees to
the General Assembly.
In 1976, the Legislative Policy Committee, in conjunction with other
legislative committees, took over the principal roles of the Legislative
Council and its Research Division. The Policy Committee's annual
reports including Summary Reports of Committees to this Committee,
which include findings and recommendations made to the General Assembly,
represent the work done between sessions by the Standing, Statutory, and
Special Joint Committees since 1976. Proposed bills and joint resolutions
resulting from committee study generally are included in these reports.
Until 1981, each year's reports of the various Committees were
printed in one volume. Since then they have been published separately,
without an index. However, some individual reports are cataloged. Familiarity
with the scope of each committee's work is necessary t o use these sources
Committee reports and studies on taxation and other fiscal matters, published
as independent units from 1955-1996, contain a wealth of information on
state and local government revenue and expenditures.
c. Legislative Committee Bill Files, Reports, and Hearings
- Standing Committees are probably the single most powerful force in the
General Assembly. A bill that is reported favorably by a Committee in
both houses will usually succeed on a floor vote. Conversely, rare
indeed is the bill that is resuscitated on the floor of either house after
it fails in Committee.
In 1975, one of the more productive sources of legislative history
- the bill files of the various Standing Committees - began to
be retained systematically. Previously, most files were discarded after
the session. The bill files are microfilmed by the Department of Legislative
Services Library and subscribed to by a number of libraries including
the State Law Library, Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland
School of Law the University of Baltimore Law Library and, the Attorney
General's Library. Typically, bill files are retained by the Committee
for one year, then turned over to Legislative Services for filming.
The original paper files are later deposited with the Maryland State
A comprehensive list of bills files available at the Maryland State law Library is available in the Library's catalog at http://lawlib.state.md.us/record=b1020373.
Most files contain some of the following materials, where applicable:
- bill drafting data such as who requested the bill, who drafted it,
the purpose statement, various amending steps;
- a copy of the bill as first submitted and subsequent readers;
- the fiscal note that must accompany every bill;
- witness lists, copies of written testimony submitted at Committee
hearings, and, occasionally, notes on oral testimony;
- each amendment prepared for a bill, whether or not is was submitted
to a vote;
- Committee votes;
- miscellaneous notes, including any study commission reports;
- floor votes on the bill, if any; and
- the Attorney General's bill-review letter which, is filed for every
bill reaching the Governor's desk for signing;
- reference to bill(s) in previous sessions on same topic.
- Photocopies of relevant news stories, journal articles, statutes
from other states.
- Until 1982, there were few official reports of work done during the
session. In that year, however, the Department of Legislative Services
instituted a pilot project which generated useful documentation in the
form of section-by-section bill analyses and floor reports including
background information, an explanation of legislative intent, and a summary
of the contents and purpose of any amendments on legislation referred
to certain Standing Committees. Unfortunately, these Committee Reports
ceased publication at the close of the 2001 session. Three of these Committees
were in the Senate: Economic and Environmental Affairs, Judicial Proceedings,
and Rules, Organization, and Procedure, and two were in the House: Rules
and Executive Nominations and Judiciary. You will find the bill
analyses and floor reports in the bill files of these Committees between
The Office of Policy Analysis of the Department of Legislative Services
has since the 2002 session significantly expanded the scope of what
were formerly called Fiscal Notes. The newer Fiscal and
Policy Notes are generated in print, as well as on the Assembly's
web site and provide not only a fiscal impact statement of each introduced
bill, but in many instances also contains detailed analysis of the bill:
a (1.) summary, (2.) restatement of the current law on the topic and
(3.) background notes alluding to reasons for the legislative proposal.
Access to these fertile analysis documents are by year and bill number.
- Audio taped transcripts of hearings on Senate bills have been
prepared since 1992. These tapes are available only at the Department
of Legislative Services Library. Contact that library for assistance in
d. Audiocassettes of Senate Floor Debate.
Since 1992, debate of Senate floor proceedings have been audio taped.
The Legislative Services Library provides access to these tapes for
interested researchers. Additionally, the audio portions of Senate
and House floor proceedings are available on the General Assembly
web site for the current session only.
e. Maryland House and Senate Journals (Provincial, 1725-1774;
Senate and House of Delegates, 1777-present).
As a source of legislative history, the Journals are less than a
researcher might hope for. These journals do not contain transcripts
of floor proceedings. In them are recorded the first reading of all
the bills (purpose clause only), the Committee to which the bill was
referred, subsequent amendments, the vote on amendments, and the final
roll-call vote for each bill reported favorably out of committee.
The rules of the Senate and House usually are printed somewhere in
the Journals, and the last volume contains a subject index of all
bills introduced that session along with voluminous budget-related
documents in the appendices. This source provides the only easy access
to bills that failed, which at times illuminate legislative history
of similar bills enacted during a later session.
f. Laws of Maryland. (Provincial, 1719-1776; State,
Enactments of the General Assembly are published, generally in the order
they are approved by the Governor, at the end of each legislative session.
In more recent years these multi-volume compilations have been indexed by
subject, sponsor, bill number, and article and section of the code
The text of enacted laws in these "session law" volumes can be of some
value in determining legislative history, as they include the purpose clause,
special sections, and the periodic inclusion of preambles, none of which
are commonly codified. Also, in more recent years, the printed version of
the final bill allows the researcher to see at a glance the new language,
deletions from prior law, and amendments to the bill during the legislative
The session laws also contain amendments to municipal charters and to
public local laws, the budget bills, joint resolutions, bills vetoed and the
Governor's veto message, the Governor's executive orders and proclamations,
certifications of results of referenda, and statements of the State's
revenue and expenditures.
Before being issued in bound volumes, the session laws appear in advance
sheets. These paperbound volumes include a subject index to all bills
introduced during the session, failed as well as passed.
g. 90- Day Report; A Review of Legislation (1998 - date)
previously published as Sine Die Report (1985 - 1997) and Legislative
Session Review (1985 - 1997)
The 90-Day Report consists of two volumes. The first volume is divided
into 13 major policy subject areas, with each part containing discussions
of the majority of bills passed, including comparisons with previous sessions
and current law, background information and discussion of major bills that
did not pass. The second volume consists of all bills passed and includes
a short synopsis stating the purpose of each bill. This Report is available
on the General Assembly
web site from 1999-date.
90 Day Reports for are avaiable from under the Publications tab
h. Major Issues Review (1987 - date)
Summarizes legislative activity over four year periods - includes discussion
of all major issues, as well as significant bills that did not pass and
gubernatorial vetoes of major legislation. This information is available
on the General
Assembly web site from 1999-date.
i. Bill Review Letters (1999 - date)
Contains an analysis of selected bill review letters of the Maryland Attorney
Generals' office. These letters provide advice to the Governor as to the
successful legislation's legality, constitutionality and statutory
construction. Bill Review letters are also included in the Standing
Committee Bill Files.
j. Statutory Revision
The Division of Statutory Revision of the Department of Legislative Services
began the bulk revision of the 1957 Edition of the Maryland Code in the
early 1970's. To date, thirty Articles have been recodified. The first publication
of each new Article includes revisor's notes, which explain changes made
during the revision. Each bill to enact a new recodified article is accompanied
by a report to the General Assembly, which contains a more complete description
of the revision than that included in the revisor's notes. Files on the
articles are available in the Division offices, although at this time they
are not indexed and can be cumbersome to use. The head of the Division,
the Revisor of Statutes, is required by law to maintain a Style Manual for statutory law.
k. Miscellaneous Fiscal Papers
The Department of Legislative Services prepares various reports on state
revenues and appropriations as they affect agencies and programs. Among
them are the Fiscal Effects Report, published every June (since
1969); and the Four-Year Fiscal Summary (1979 to present). The Department
also issues Sunset Reviews(1979 to present), which,
among other things, discuss the origins and purposes of state agencies,
boards, and commissions.
II. HISTORY SOURCES FROM OUTSIDE THE
a. Governor's Messages and Vetoes
The Governor's messages often provide insight into the administration's
proposed legislation. The traditional State-of-the-State message of
the Governor appears in the House and Senate Journals. The Governor's budget
message usually is submitted as a separate publication with the annual state
budget books. All executive orders and proclamations are reprinted
and indexed in the Journal volumes and session laws and some also appear
in the Annotated Code of Maryland the Maryland Register,
and COMAR. Published addresses and papers of each Governor, transcripts
of press conferences, and press releases also may contain useful information
about executive programs.
Executive veto messages generally appear in the Maryland House and Senate
Journals (usually at the beginning of the session) and in the Laws
b. Legislative and Executive Task Forces and Study Commissions.
Many statutes are the culmination of studies by bodies charged by the Governor,
and, or the General Assembly with finding legislative solutions to social
or economic problems. The list of each session's approved joint resolutions
requesting such studies appear in the Laws of Maryland.
Each study group's papers, which usually include minutes, transcripts of
public hearings, and interim and final reports, can be an excellent source
of legislative history. The State Law Library currently has in excess of
1,000 such reports issued over the past 150 years. A checklist of these
reports, are available on the library's web site as a separate page, as
well as indexed on the library's online catalog. Maryland Study
Commission and Task Force Reports. Some of the reports of earlier commissions
established by joint resolutions appear in the House and Senate Journals,
Maryland Public Documents, and Maryland House and Senate Documents (see c. below). For reports never distributed or not kept by the major law
libraries, the best source is the Governor's Executive Files maintained
at the Maryland State Archives.
c. Annual Reports and Papers of Executive, Legislative, and
The files, annual reports, and research studies done by executive branch
agencies, the judiciary, and the legislature may yield pertinent history
leads. Early annual reports are published in Maryland Public Documents (1829-1854) and Maryland House and Senate Documents (1856-1920).
In addition to annual reports from various state agencies and institutions,
these two titles include reports of select and standing legislative committees,
executive messages, and contested election cases. The State Law Library
has compiled an extensive index to these historically significant series.
For recent reports and studies consult one of the state depository libraries.
A subject index to the Governor's Executive Files from 1957 has been created
by the State Archives. However, the State restricts use of Executive Files
of a Governor whose administration ended fewer than 30 years ago. The State Archives should be consulted
about the accessibility of these files.
d. Maryland Attorney General's Opinions and Files.
Because the Office of the Attorney General provides Counsel to the General
Assembly, members and committees of the Legislature and task forces often
seek the advice of that office on the constitutionality or construction
of bills and statutes. Advice may be rendered in formal opinions, written
advice of counsel, or informal oral communications. The Attorney General's
Office of Counsel to the General Assembly is also responsible for reviewing
all enacted legislation for constitutionality and preparing bill-review
letters to the Governor prior to approval or veto of the bills.
In addition to the Reports and Official Opinions of the Attorney General
(from 1916) and Unpublished Opinions (from 1973), researchers should consult
bill-review letters, copies of which are usually in the Committee Bill files
or may be requested from the Office of Counsel to the General Assembly,
and "legislative letters" (from 1972) in the Office of Counsel to the General
Assembly. A compilation of selected bill review letters has been published
by the Department of Legislative Services starting in 1999.
III. HISTORY OF STATE
CONSTITUTIONS AND CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
e. Maryland Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals
Briefs and Record Extracts.
Prior appeals involving statutory construction may have generated source
materials on related questions. Using a citation service to check the relevlant
statute may help uncover such materials in briefs and record extracts submitted
to the courts, as well as in the reported cases themselves.
f. Superseded Editions of the Annotated Code of
A complete set of the superseded volumes of the Annotated Code can be of
immeasurable help in tracing the history of a statute from its original form
through subsequent amendments. Most major law libraries retain all
superseded volumes of the Code. Unfortunately, the publishers of the current
recodified Code articles have abandoned the practice of listing the dates
and chapter numbers of all amendments to a statute previously found at the
end of each section of the 1957 edition of the Code, thereby complicating
g. Miscellaneous Sources.
1. Professional and Trade Associations, Local Government,
and Other Legislative Lobbyists.
Although no one library or other site contains all of the documentation
produced by lobbying groups, a periodic publication of the State Ethics
Commission listing all registered Maryland lobbyists
and the organization each represents can help you locate such materials.
Some of the more prolific advocacy groups and larger organizations publish
newsletters, research papers, and convention proceedings which, can provide
information on their legislative programs. Of special interest and value
are many of the legislative reports in the Transactions of the Maryland
State Bar Association, 1896-1991.
2. Legislative Study Group Publications.
The Legislative Study Group, which disbanded in 1984, issued studies
and periodic newsletters between 1977 and 1984 to the public and
legislators. The group's Issue Reports provided actual summaries
and debate about selected topics, including analyses of bills and the
3. Annual Reports of the Commissioners on Uniform State
Laws and Model Acts.
Since 1896 Maryland has been a working member of the National Conference
of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The Annual Report of the
Maryland Commissioners contains references to uniform acts proposed for
enactment and reports on those enacted in recent sessions. The report
also lists all uniform laws adopted in Maryland. Other uniform and model
law proposals are the American Law Institute codes and the Council of
State Governments, Suggested State Legislation. Also helpful is
Thomson/West Publishing Company's Uniform Laws Annotated for application
and analysis of the various uniform state laws.
4. Similar Statutes of Other States or the Federal
Frequently, Maryland statutes are based on similar statutes enacted by
other states or the United States Congress. While not dispositive, the
legislative history and construction of these statutes is often persuasive
evidence of the purpose and meaning of the Maryland law.
5. Newspapers, Magazines, and Journal
Contemporary newspapers and journal articles may explain legislation or
track the history of an important
Maryland has adopted four constitutions: in 1776, 1851, 1864, and 1867.
The 1867 Constitution, still in force, has been amended close to 200
The primary sources of state constitutional history are convention
proceedings and debates. Noteworthy secondary sources include: D. Friedman, The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide (2006); A.
Niles, Maryland Constitutional Law (1915); J. Harry, The
Maryland Constitution of 1851 (1902); H. Walker Lewis, The Maryland
Constitution-1776 (1976); and W. Myers, The Constitution of
1864 (1901). A year after Maryland's last Constitutional Convention in
1967, a revised Constitution was submitted to the people. Although it
failed, many of its reform proposals have since been adopted. As a result,
the voluminous output of the Convention is now fertile ground for
researching the history of enactments of subsequent laws and
constitutional amendments. See, e.g., Constitutional Revision Study
Documents of the Constitutional Convention of Maryland(1968). While
most major law libraries have a substantial portion of the proceedings and
reports of the four conventions, the only comprehensive collections are in
the Maryland State Archives and the State Law Library. Many of the
convention proceedings have been digitized and are now accessible at the
State Archives web site.
Updated: October 21, 2013