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Legislative History in Virginia

Provides resources that can be used to track pending legislation, discover the intent behind a bill, and trace the history of changes to a law

Overview

Virginia State Capitol black-and-white photograph                       Jackson, William Henry. The Capitol, Richmond, Va. c1901. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,Washington, D.C. 

A legislative history is the sequence of steps or path taken to arrive at the final version of a law; the term is also used to refer to the documents reflecting that history. Legislative histories are often compiled in order to understand what the legislature intended in authoring a bill, or the purpose and meaning of specific legislative language. This guide provides resources that can be used to track pending legislation, discover the intent behind a bill, and trace the history of changes to a law.

Information Sources Explained

Proposed Legislation

  • Bills A bill can originate in either the House or Senate and contains the proposed text of a law. The various versions of a bill delineate the changes in its text over time and may be helpful in determining intent. A bill always mentions the section of the Code of Virginia that it will amend. The regular print of the text indicates existing legislation, text in italics indicates amendments to the current law, and text with a line through it indicates deletions. 
  • Legislative Draft Files The Division of Legislative Services creates a legislative draft file for each bill. The file contains the bill request, background information justifying the proposal of the bill, copies with the drafting changes, and any correspondence between the drafting attorney and the legislator. 
  • House and Senate Journals The journals are a daily record of the legislative session and provide the status of bills and related information such as the names of patrons, reading dates, vote counts, amendments, and committee referrals.
  • Legislative Sessions There are no printed transcripts of General Assembly debates, but video of House and Senate floor sessions and committee meetings (2017–  ) can be viewed online. Older House floor sessions (1981–2015) are available on videotape.

Analysis

  • Attorney General Opinions Persons authorized by statute, such as the governor, a General Assembly member, the head of a state agency, or a constitutional officer can ask the attorney general for an official opinion on questions of law. On a given topic, the published opinions of the attorney general may be helpful to determine intent.  
  • Fiscal Impact Statements These documents are usually prepared by the Department of Planning and Budget and contain anticipated costs of proposed legislation.
  • House and Senate Documents (Reports to the General Assembly) These include reports and recommendations by various agencies, committees, and commissions on topics of pending legislation.
  • Law Journals Law review articles often present analysis and discuss the intent of specific laws.
  • Newspapers Articles in newspapers can provide in-depth analysis of proposed laws. 

Enacted Laws

  • Acts of Assembly Bills enacted into law each legislative session become chapters that constitute the Acts of Assembly for each year. Each chapter lists the Senate or House bill that created it (HB for House bill or SB for Senate Bill).
  • Code of Virginia Each year the bills that have become law are integrated (codified) into the Code of Virginia. Every section of the Code refers to the chapter or chapters and year of enactment of that particular law. Look for the information in parentheses at the end of each section, which states the chapters that created or amended it. For example, this citation—Code 1950, § 58-27.2; 1970, c. 762; 1973, c.140; 1978, c.654; 1984, c.67—means that part of the section predates the current Code of Virginia, that it was incorporated in the 1950 version, and that there were changes to the law in 1970, 1973, 1978, and 1984. Always check the pocket part in the back of the volume you are reading. This will contain changes to the code since the hardbound volume was printed. 

Revised May 2021