Guide to Maryland Legislative History Research
This Guide was created by Library staff members in 2010 and was last updated in August 2018. This document serves as a companion piece to Michael S. Miller's Ghosthunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History.
The Library also designed a one-page Checklist for you to use.
Step 1: Research Maryland courts' usage of legislative history
The Courts often discuss the legislative history of a particular statute (see, for example, Conaway v. Deane, 401 Md. 219 (2007); State v. Johnson, 415 Md. 413 (2010); Gardner v. State, 420 Md. 1 (2011); and Johnson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 430 Md. 368 (2013); Montgomery County v. Phillips, 445 Md. 55 (2015); among others). Please note that there may be additional cases that address more specific scenarios.
Law review articles and legal treatises may also provide guidance. Some key titles include: Jack Schwartz and Amanda Stakem Conn, "The Court of Appeals at the Cocktail Party: The Use and Misuse of Legislative History," 54 Md. L. Rev. 432 (1995); and Norman J. Singer and J.D. Shambie Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction (formerly called Sutherland Statutory Construction).
Step 2: Find the session law by using the Maryland Annotated Code
Maryland Annotated Code, Current Year:
Print version: At the end of each statute, the publishers of the Code provide a history of the statute's amendments, displayed in parentheses in chronological order. The Code editors have provided any available Revisor's Notes, as well as occasional Editor's Notes that describe amendments. If the amendment you are seeking is listed in the history parenthetical, note the chapter number (and section, if given) and year and proceed to the next step. Note that the publisher does not provide amendment history prior to the revision of the Article in which your statute is located. To find earlier amendments, see below.
Online versions: LexisNexis online annotated code should contain material identical to the print version. The free version of the unannotated version from LexisNexis also provides amendment history and Revisor's Notes.
Maryland Annotated Code, Superseded volumes:
Print version: The Library's Conference Room houses a complete collection of superseded code volumes and annual pocket part updates. To find earlier amendments of a statute, locate the superseded volume near the date of the amendment. Find the appropriate statute number by using the volume's table of contents or the current Tables volume. Review the amendment history as noted above.
Online versions: Westlaw provides superseded volumes online starting in 2001. The Maryland State Archives website has free digitized copies of various historic code editions, up to and including the 1939 volumes.
Step 3: Read the session law
Laws of Maryland, Print Version:
The Library's Conference Room contains a complete set of the print volumes of the Laws of Maryland, which are arranged by chapter number for each session year. The chapter provides the purpose of the statutory change and any amendments to the act made during the enactment process. Importantly, the chapter provides in its header the Senate or House bill number.
Laws of Maryland, Online Versions:
The Maryland State Archives website has free digitized copies of the Laws of Maryland, from colonial times to present. HeinOnline (available at the Library and to Maryland Judiciary Staff) has digitized copies of the Laws of Maryland (and its colonial predecessor), from 1692 to present. The General Assembly website has an index of chapters and bill numbers, starting in 1996. Since 2007, the General Assembly has offered PDF versions of chapters, as they appear in the Laws of Maryland. These are available from links on the corresponding bill page. Searching and browsing capabilities vary among these providers.
Step 4: Find the bill number
Note the bill number provided in the header of the chapter in the Laws of Maryland. It is important to note whether the bill number provided is for the House or the Senate. To locate bill numbers from 1996 to the present, it may be easier to use the General Assembly website's index of chapters and bill numbers. Remember to note the year as well as the bill number, as bills are numbered consecutively throughout a single session; numbers begin at 1 in each new session.
Step 5. Analyze history using legislative sources
Bill Drafting Information:
General Assembly Website Documents: This resource has bill drafting information from legislative sessions beginning in 1996, including: Fiscal and Policy Notes, since 2002; Fiscal Notes, from 1996 to 2001; and amendments to bills. These resources are available from the web page for the particular bill. The site also offers audio and video recordings of Senate and House committee proceedings from 2011 forward.
Bill Files: These contain information collected by the General Assembly's Standing Committees about bills submitted to them for review. Bill files may include: "bill review letters" from the Attorney General's Office; amendments; hearing witness testimony; recorded votes; fiscal notes; bill analysis from the Committees; floor reports; committee summaries; Briefing Papers from the Governor’s Legislative Office; agencies’ Positions on Proposed Legislation; and occasional correspondence from stakeholders.
Senate and House bill files are available from the Department of Legislative Services Library as noted:
- 1965-1972: Limited early materials from session interims from are available in microfilm, arranged by Legislative Council Report “item number.”
- 1967-1974: A limited number of original Files from regular sessions —consult “Pre-1975 Legislative History Files List” to determine holdings.
- 1975-2004: Files between 1975 and 2004 are available in microfilm.
- 1976-1999: A limited number of original Files from regular sessions between 1976 to 1999 are available—consult “Files Kept in Stacks List” to determine holdings.
- 2000-2016: Original Files are available.
- 2017-2018: Original Files are retained by the legislative committee to which the bill was referred; consult the Department of Legislative Services Library to determine access.
The Department of Legislative Services Library manages the microfilming and scanning of bill files and provides subscriptions to a number of libraries in addition to the State Law Library: the University of Maryland School of Law's Thurgood Marshall Law Library; the University of Baltimore Law School Library; the Maryland Attorney General's Office Library, the Baltimore County Circuit Court Law Library; and the Montgomery County Circuit Court Law Library. (Typically, bill files are retained by a Committee for one year, then turned over to the Legislative Services Library.) For additional information, contact:
Maryland Department of Legislative Services Library
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Dates of coverage of bills files located at the Maryland State Law Library are available in the Library's catalog. The State Law Library has the following bill files:
- 1975-2004: Files between 1975 and 2004 are available in microfilm.
- 2003-2006: Online bill files are available in the Library’s Digital Collections.
Audio recordings of floor debates: Between 1992 and 2010, debate of Senate floor proceedings have been audio recorded. House proceedings were recorded starting in 2000. The Legislative Services Library provides access to these tapes for interested researchers. The General Assembly website offers audio and video recordings of Senate and House committee proceedings from 2011 forward.
Legislative Policy Committee:
The various reports to this Committee include findings and recommendations made as a result of the work done between sessions by legislative committees. The Library's holding include the Reports of Committees to the General Assembly, from 1977 to 1981; and the successor Summary Reports, from 1983 to the present. They are shelved in the State Publications Collection at call number LE 3(A).2 :RAP and LE 3(a).2 :SRO, respectively.
Reports to the General Assembly: The Legislative Council, which existed from 1939 through 1975, studied various problems facing the State during legislative interims. The Council's annual reports consist of summaries of legislative proposals. The Library's holdings include Reports from 1941 to 1975. They are shelved in the State Publications Collection at call number LE 3(A).2 :RAP. These are also available in the Library’s Digital Collections.
Research Reports: Between 1940 and 1958, the Research Division of the Legislative Council produced 32 studies on a range of topics. The Library has cataloged each report separately, but all are available in the State Publications Collection at call number LE 3a.2 :LCR. These are also available in the Library’s Digital Collections.
The Commission to Revise the Annotated Code:
The Commission issued several reports in the 1970's detailing the revisions of Articles from the 1957 Edition of the Maryland Code. The Library has cataloged each report separately, but all are available in the State Publications Collection at call number LE 5.2 :CR. Additionally, the first publication of each new Article includes comprehensive Revisor's Notes, which explain changes made during the revision. The Library also has the Maryland Style Manual for Statutory Law, shelved at LE 5.2 :SMO. The Department of Legislative Services' website has additional information on the revision process.
Maryland House and Senate Journals:
There is relatively little legislative history here. However, the last volume of the year contains a subject index of all bills introduced that session. This is the only source, prior to 1996, that provides easy access to bills that failed, which at times illuminate legislative history of similar bills enacted during a later session. The General Assembly’s website gives comprehensive coverage of bill passage since 1996.
Department of Legislative Services Session Review:
The Department of Legislative Services summarizes each session in a series of publications, listed below. Summaries within the reports are arranged by major topic and bill number. Most of the summaries are brief, but on occasion, a longer discussion is included.
- Quick Reader Review of the Session, 1981 through 1984
- Legislative Session Review of the General Assembly, 1986 through 1997, a continuation of the Quick Reader
- Sine Die Report, from 1985 through 1997
- 90 Day Report: A Review of Legislation, 1998 to the present, combines the former Legislative Session Review and the Sine Die Report. The Report also is available online on the General Assembly’s website.
Step 6. Analyze history using other state government sources
Reports from Legislative and Executive Task Forces and Study Commissions:
The reports of these formal entities, charged by the Governor or the General Assembly with finding legislative solutions to social or economic problems, can be a rich source of legislative history. The State Law Library is in the process of digitizing many of these reports and maintains a comprehensive print collection, shelved in the State Publications Collection at call number Y 3.
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, which the Library houses in its storage collection. The Governor's budget message usually is submitted as a separate publication with the annual state budget books. Executive veto messages generally appear in the Maryland House and Senate Journals (usually at the beginning of the session) and in the Laws of Maryland.
Annual Reports and Publications of Executive Agencies and the Judicial Branch:
The annual reports and other publications of executive branch agencies and the Judiciary might provide some historical leads. The State Law Library has a comprehensive collection of these publications, and many also are available from other state depository libraries.
Step 7. Analyze history using sources outside of state government
Reports of Professional and Trade Associations and Stakeholders
Although most of this material will be topically oriented, legal researchers might pay special attention to the legislative reports contained in the Reports of the Annual Meetings of the Maryland State Bar Association, 1896-1991. This resource is both online and in print, shelved in the Maryland Law Collection at call number KFM1281 .M382.
Legislative Study Group Publications
The Legislative Study Group, an organization including both legislators and community leaders, issued studies and periodic newsletters between 1977 and 1984. The Library has cataloged each publication separately, but all are available in the State Publications Collection at call number LE 9.2 :IR..
Documentation from National Legislative Organizations
The General Assembly may have looked to other states in the crafting of specific language, especially for uniform and model laws. For example, it may have followed the uniform law proposals of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The Conference's Annual Proceedings are shelved in the Library's Legal Texts Collection at call number KF165 .A2. The Uniform Law Commissiion offers an online archive of the Conference's recent drafts of uniform laws. Maryland also could have adopted model codes of the American Law Institute; the Library's catalog has individual records for each model code. The Council of State Governments also offers Suggested State Legislation, available in the Library's Legal Texts Collection at call number KF165 .C68.
Newspaper, Magazine and Journal Articles
Contemporary news articles may have featured legislative developments. The Library internally offers full-text online databases of the Baltimore Sun (1837 – present) and the Annapolis Capitol (1887 – present). The Library also offers the Maryland Daily Record on microfilm and online from 1888 – 1923 and from 2001 – present. These sources might provide additional details about legislation. If a researcher finds coverage of legislation on a particular date in one of the databases, he or she can more easily search a similar date range in one of the others.
The Department of Legislative Services compiles useful and relevant newspaper clippings in a circular titled the Maryland Clipper. The Library has retained these since 1989. The most current several years are retained in the Maryland State Publications collection at call number LE 4.2:MC ; earlier issues are in basement storage, and are available for use upon request.