Researching Michigan Legislative History

A legislative history is a chronological record of the legislative process. Legislative histories are used by lawyers to support their interpretations of laws when statutory or constitutional language is ambiguous. To effectively research and compile a bill's legislative history, it helps to understand first the basics about the legislature, and the bill making process. Accordingly, this guide will start with quick facts about the Michigan Legislature. It will then provide information on bill basics. Last, this guide will review preferred research resources and discuss in brief how to structure the legislative research process.

Background Information About The Michigan Legislature

The Michigan legislature is a bicameral body. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 1. The Senate consists of thirty-eight members, Mich. Const. art. IV, section 2, and the House of Representatives consists of 110. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 3. The legislature convenes its terms, which last for two years, in January. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 13. In odd numbered years, any bill or joint resolution still pending at the final adjournment of a regular session will be carried over to the next regular session without any change in status. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 13. Any bill that is not enacted within the term in which it was introduced must be reintroduced in the following term.

The Bill Making Process

When the legislature is in session each house keeps and generally publishes a journal of its proceedings. Mich. Const. art. IV section 18. All legislation is introduced as a bill. Mich. Const. art. IV section 22. Bills may be sponsored by members of either or both chambers. Id. Each bill is read three times in each chamber prior to enactment. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 26. After a bill is introduced, it recieves a First Reading in the House or a First and Second Reading in the Senate or both. It is then referred to a standing committee. HR 41(4); SR 3.203(a). If the bill involves appropriations, it is also referred to the Appropriations Committee. The committee (or committees) reviews the bill, and may hold public hearings. HR 34. After evaluating the bill, the committee may recommend the bill, refer it to another committee, or let it die. HR 34; SR 2.203. If the bill is recommended, the committee will generate a committee report and send the bill back to chambers. The Senate or House will then forward the bill to the Committee of the Whole or the Second Reading respectively. HR 3.701; SR 3.701. Remember to look out for any amendments that may have been proposed, but failed. By comparing alternate versions of a text, you can discern information about the legislature's intent. Statements for the record are also made sometimes. But remember, you will need to understand the motives of the person making the statement before you can evaluate its worth.

If the bill is recommended, it goes to the Third Reading and a final vote. Mich. Const. art. IV, section 26. Both chambers must pass identical bills for it to be enrolled and sent to the Governor. Mich. Const. art IV section 26. When the House and Senate bills differ, the bills are sent to a committee composed of three members from each chamber in order to hammer out a bill acceptable on both sides of the aisle. Once a bill is passed, the Governor then has fourteen days to either veto or sign it. Mich. Const. art. IV section 33. If the Governor does nothing, this is called a pocket veto. If the Legislature is still in session or recess, the bill will still become law. Id. If the session has ended, the bill will die. Id. If the Governor vetoes a bill, it is returned to the chamber from which it originated for reconsideration. Id. If the bill is passed by both houses by a 2/3 majority, it will become law. Id. Absent special action on the part of the legislature, bills do not become effective until 90 days after the end of the session in which they were passed. Mich. Const. art. IV section 27.

See also How a Bill Becomes a Law.

Why Research Legislative Histories?

The law making process results in numerous documents that, taken together, constitute legislative history. But why is legislative history important?

Although courts in Michigan rely first on the plain meaning of statutes (applying cannons of statutory construction), they will look to legislative history to resolve ambiguities inherent in the text of some statutes. See e.g.Stone v. Williamson, 482 Mich. 144; 753 N.W.2d 106 (2008). Researching Michigan legislative history can be challenging, however. Legislative histories for Michigan Bills and Acts have never been overly detailed. Also, not all sources of legislative history are of equal value. Alternative drafts of statutory provisions can shed light on the intent behind enacted provisions. In re Certified Question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Kenneth Henes Special Projects Procurement, Marketing and Consulting Corporation v. Continental Biomass Indus., Inc., 468 Mich. 109; 659 N.W.2d 597 (2003). And language showing that the legislature took action specifically to repudiate a judicial construction of a statute can prove valuable. Id. But legislative analyses, and other sources of information (testimony, for example) not generated directly by members of the legislature, are accorded less weight by courts. Id. And some courts are more hostile towards legislative history arguments than others--Know thy judge (or law professor)!

Still, it is worthwhile to research the intent underlying our state laws.

How To Research Michigan Legislative History

Public Acts:

You should begin your legislative history research by locating the relevant Public Act (P.A.) number. P.A.s are compiled by year and are numbered (each session resets back to P.A. 1, so knowing the correct year is important). P.A.s are published in PUBLIC AND LOCAL ACTS by session [M5 KA7 c.2], although, in our library, more recent acts are in West's MICHIGAN LEGISLATIVE LETTERS [M5 KA9ab c.2]. MICHIGAN COMPILED LAWS ANNOTATED also provides references to P.A. numbers. And P.A. numbers from 1997-present date can be found on the Michigan Legislative Web Site.

At the end of PUBLIC AND LOCAL ACTS, there are Michigan Compiled Laws ("MCL") Tables that provide both the MCL statute numbers along with corresponding P.A. numbers. Similarly, MICHIGAN LEGISLATIVE LETTERS contains a cumulative table that provides references to both MCL numbers and the P.A. numbers. MICHIGAN LEGISLATIVE LETTERS also contains a table that cross references P.A. numbers with House and Senate bill numbers.

MCL Annotated ("MCLA") provides tables at the end of the series. These tables provide MCLA citations that correspond to territorial laws, earlier versions of compiled laws, and P.A.s. If you don't know the P.A. number or its date, but know its popular name, you can look up its number in the Popular Names Table behind the General Index of the MCLA. If you don't know any of the specifics about your area of study, however, you will need to begin your research by exploring subject headings in the General Index.

Last, if you are interested in a particular statute, both Lexis and Westlaw include references to P.A. numbers in their annotations. Wherever possible, Westlaw has also provided links to House and Senate documents available on the Michigan Legislative Web Site.

House or Senate Bill Numbers:

After locating your P.A. number, your next step is to find the corresponding House or Senate Bill number. This can be accomplished using any of the following resources.

  • Public and Local Acts. The bill number will appear at the beginning of the act.
  • Michigan Legislative Service Letters issued in the same year as the P.A. The bill number will appear at the beginning of the act.
  • Michigan Legislative Status tables [M5 KA 3]. The Public Acts table in the back provides corresponding bill numbers.
  • In the Michigan House or Senate Journal for the year in question, in the last volume for the year, you can look up the P.A. and corresponding bill number in the Table of Acts and Bill Numbers at the back of the journal.
  • Michigan Legislative Web Site (1997-present).

Alternatively, if you know the year in which the bill was passed, you can look up your issue in the Senate or House Journals (in the last volume for the appropriate year) by topic in the Bill and Joint Resolution Index, or in the General Index.

House and Senate Journals:

House and Senate Journals are the official records of legislative proceedings in Michigan, and should be considered first as a resource for tracking a bill's history. They are not verbatim transcripts, however. Actual floor debates are available on tape only at the State Archives. In House and Senate journals, however, you can track step-by-step a bill's progress through the legislature. You can determine what actions were taken and when, which committees considered the bill, names of sponsors, roll call votes, and whether amendments were proposed, but defeated. References to actions taken may also lead you to other sources of information about a bill's preenactment history.

The bill's distilled legislative history can be found in the last volume of the Michigan House or Senate Journal in the either the History of House Bills in the House, History of Senate Bills in the House, Senate History of Senate Bills, or the Senate History of House Bills. More recent legislative histories of a bill (1997-present date) are available at the Michigan Legislative Web Site.

Committee Records and Legislative Reports:

House and Senate committee records are another good resource for uncovering information about bills. Committee minutes can provide insight into the legislative process. Transcripts of testimony given before committees may help a researcher understand better the legislature's thinking on a particular issue. Records also can contain bill analyses that speak to intent. Michigan House and Senate committee minutes, bill analyses, letters, and testimony (tape or transcript or both) are available to researchers at the State Archives of Michigan. The archives staff can be contacted at (517) 373-1408.

The Michigan House and Senate do not usually issue reports on bills. But some committees generate issue reports prior to introducing legislation. These reports can shed light on a subsequent bills intent. To locate standing or special and joint committee reports of the Michigan Legislature, consult Michigan Documents [ask at reference], if your dates fall within the publication's coverage periods. Alternatively, the Library of Michigan website has a page dedicated to theMichigan Documents Depository Program. This site contains a wealth of information about state publications and where to locate them. Because reports are normally issue, and not bill, specific, they are indexed by subject.

Legislative Analyses:

State agencies such as the House Legislative Analysis Section, the Senate Analysis Section, and other legislative agencies such as the Senate Fiscal Agency publish legislative analyses that can provide insight into the legislature's intent with respect to a bill. These analyses identify the apparent problem or rationale, summarize contents, report on committee actions and fiscal implications, outline the arguments for and against, and the positions taken on the bill by professional organizations, unions, and state agencies. Addendums are often provided.

One caveat, analyses are not official statements of legislative intent.

The House and Senate bill analyses materials in Michigan Bills are available at UDM Kresge Law Library from 1979-2002; earlier volumes are available at other area libraries. More recent House and Senate bills and legislative analyses (1997-present) are available from the Michigan Legislative Web Site.

Finally, you do not have to limit your legislative research to legislative documents. Newspaper articles are a good source of information about the political climate that motivated or influenced a Representative or Senator to introduce legislation. State Bar publications may contain useful information. And don't forget journal or law review articles. If a current legislator was a sponsor of, or otherwise involved in passing, your bill, call or email him or her. If the legislator is open to helping you with your project, ask for access to unpublished notes or files.

Other Resources For Compiling Michigan Legislative Histories:

Michigan

Multistate

  • State Legislative Sourcebook [JK2495 .S689 1995]
  • Basic legal research: tools and strategies [KF240 .S66 2009]
  • Stateline.org