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Published: 2008-03-26

State Legislation and Administrative Law


Federal law affects more people than the law of any one state, but it is state laws that determine most of the basic rules of society. State law governs such matters as contracts, criminal law, family law, landlord-tenant relations, wills, and intestate succession. The U.S. Constitution limits the powers of the federal government, in theory at least, and those powers not expressly delegated to the United States are reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. In practice, the scope of federal power is a hotly contested issue among politicians and in the courts.

The existence of 50 separate state legal systems does not necessarily mean that there are wide discrepancies among these systems. In some areas of law, particularly those related to such explosive issues as abortion or capital punishment, there are significant differences among the states. By and large, however, most differences are relatively minor. States look to each others' experiences in grappling with social issues. Similar concerns are addressed in each state, and often similar conclusions are reached. The difference is in the details. Every state has criminal laws against homicide, arson, and theft; only the penalties vary from state to state. Adverse possession exists in all jurisdictions, but the period after which ownership vests in the possessor can be as short as 2 years or as long as 60 years.

Researching state law is generally similar to researching federal law. It involves many of the same processes and similar tools, statutory codes, court reports, online databases, CD-ROMs, and Web sites. Federal law has been discussed first largely because it provides a uniform system nationwide. In contrast, the distinctions between states make generalizations difficult. For example, not all states still publish official court reports, and some states are more advanced than others in placing material on the Internet. Generally, however, state legal research follows the paradigm of federal legal research.

A first step in analyzing any legal issue is to determine which jurisdiction's laws apply: Is an issue one of federal or state law? The need to make this determination is one of the reasons to begin research in an encyclopedia or treatise, which can provide the necessary background information. Just as it is important to know whether federal or state law is involved (or both), it is sometimes necessary to decide which state's laws apply. This is usually obvious, it can sometimes be a thorny legal issue. If a contract was signed in one state and executed in another, which state's law governs interpretation of its terms? If a couple moves to a community property state shortly before they divorce, how is their marital property divided? Questions such as these have created a substantial body of legal doctrine, and literature, on conflict of laws.

Sooner or later one must find and understand the specific laws governing matters in a specific state, which is why general resources such as American Jurisprudence 2d or Corpus Juris Secundum are only starting points. The focus must be on the statutes, court decisions, and other laws of an individual state.

The amount of information available on state law can vary widely between jurisdictions. Large states with substantial lawyer populations have extensive libraries of treatises, specialized formbooks, practice guides, self-help books, and CD-ROMs, while smaller states may have only a few basic resources. Each state, nonetheless, has the same basic primary legal sources: a constitution, legislative acts, appellate court decisions, and administrative regulations.

Multistate Reference Sources

Materials from every state are generally available in larger law libraries, while smaller legal collections and general libraries tend to focus on materials for their home state. It is therefore helpful, particularly in trying to research the law of another state, to know about resources dealing with state laws throughout the country.


Multistate resources are particularly valuable for researchers comparing the law in different jurisdictions. Often researchers need to determine how many states have a law specific to a particular topic. Checking each state's statutes may be necessary, but starting from scratch 50 times is a time-consuming pursuit. It can also be frustrating because states may use different terminology for similar purposes. Fortunately, several publications survey the laws in every state.

The best multistate survey publications summarize quickly and accurately the law in each jurisdiction, and also provide references that lead directly to the original statutes or other primary sources. The inclusion of these citations to primary sources is an important criterion in evaluating state law surveys because it makes the difference between a source that can be used as a springboard to further research and one that simply provides outdated conclusions. The inclusion of code citations ensures that a survey does not lose as much value over time. Laws change, but it is a much simpler matter to update citations than to begin a search in each code's subject index.

Surveys of state law are arranged either by jurisdiction, with several sections for each state covering a range of issues, or by subject, with lists or tables of state provisions collected for each topic. A state arrangement is more useful for someone needing information on one particular state, but a subject arrangement allows a quick comparison of an issue's treatment in several states.

The most comprehensive of these sources, Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest (Martindale-Hubbell, 2 vols., annual), is a companion to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory . It is arranged by state and provides detailed summaries of state statutory and common law rules, with citations to both code provisions and court decisions. The scope of the digests varies from state to state, from 24 pages for Vermont to 84 pages for Illinois, but each follows a standard format. About two dozen legal categories, such as "Business Regulation and Commerce," "Estates and Trusts," and "Family," contain specific entries on about 100 legal topics. The topics within each category are arranged alphabetically. (Before the 1998 edition, all the topics were in one alphabetical sequence.)

Individual entries range from a few words ("System does not obtain," for "Community Property" in several states; or "Abolished" for obsolete doctrines such as "Dower" and "Curtesy") to several pages for complex issues such as "Corporations" and "Taxation." The digests include sample forms for a variety of uses, such as liens, acknowledgments, deeds, and simple wills.

Each Martindale-Hubbell state digest is revised annually by specialists in the state's laws. A few digests are prepared by professors at law schools in the state, but most are handled by practicing lawyers at law firms, often one of the state's larger and more prestigious firms. Some entries provide helpful insider tips that may not be apparent from the face of the laws. The Louisiana digest notes, for example, that "no statutes authorize submission of controversy to court on agreed statement of facts but courts generally allow such submission."

The Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest is designed for attorneys needing quick information about other states It focuses on topics in commercial law and civil procedure of practical concern to out-of-state attorneys. Several issues of more general interest are covered as well. The rights and duties of children are outlined in the topic "Infants," and consumer issues arise in such topics as "Consumer Protection," "Landlord and Tenant," and "Motor Vehicles." The "Family" category includes such topics as "Marriage," "Divorce," "Guardian and Ward," and "Adoption." Exhibit 11-1 reproduces an excerpt from the Massachusetts section of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest providing a brief outline of the state's adoption law. Note that the digest includes references to relevant statutes and to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision. (To save space, this decision is listed by citation only, without its parties' names.)

Some matters, however, are not covered in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest in much depth. Criminal law only gets a few paragraphs, focusing mostly on bail procedures. Important political and social issues, such as capital punishment, lesbian and gay rights, and abortion, are mentioned only in passing, if at all.

Most of the digest topics summarize legal doctrines, but a few entries provide useful information about the state's legal system. The "Courts and Legislature" category lists the appellate and trial courts, with explanations of their geographic and subject-matter jurisdiction; outlines the provisions for legislative sessions, as well as for initiative and referendum; and gives information about the state's court reports, digests, and code. The "Records" topic, in the "Documents and Records" category, includes information on location of court records and vital statistics.

Because the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest is arranged by state, it is more convenient for checking a particular state's laws than for surveying differences between jurisdictions. The standardized format, however, makes it possible to turn to the same topic in each state's section for a summary of its laws. This is even easier to do electronically in the MARHUB library on LEXIS-NEXIS. A simple search for topic(adoption) retrieves 53 documents summarizing adoption law in each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest is not included with the CD-ROM or Internet versions of Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory .

Another work offering a quicker way to compare a particular topic across state lines is Richard A. Leiter's National Survey of State Laws (Gale, 2d ed., 1997). This resource contains tables providing information in 43 areas, arranged into 8 general categories (business and consumer, criminal, education, employment, family, general civil, real estate, and tax). Each table provides code citations as well as summaries of state legal doctrines. Unlike the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest or other works designed specifically for lawyers, it does not limit its focus to commercial and business law but covers such issues as capital punishment, gun control, child abuse, the right to die, and stalking. Although a tabular format is used, entries are not limited to one or two words; some summaries, such as criteria for capital homicide, go on at some length as needed. The survey considers laws in force as of March 1, 1996, but because code citations are provided, this information can be updated relatively easily.

The National Survey of State Laws table on adoption laws, for instance, includes the code citation for the statutes in each state and information on who may be adopted, at what age a child's consent is required, who may adopt, and residency requirements. It also provides the names of state agencies administering adoption matters and courts with jurisdiction over adoptions, and indicates the time periods within which challenges to adoptions must be filed. For any given state, the National Survey of State Laws may not be as thorough or current a source as the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest , but it is a much more convenient form for comparing state law provisions.

Other works provide extensive surveys of state statutes but not the citations that would facilitate further research. Credit Manual of Commercial Laws (National Association of Credit Management, annual) contains lengthy, informative discussions of issues of importance in business dealings, and it surveys state laws on about three dozen topics, such as statutes of limitations, liens, installment sales, and bad check laws. Only occasionally, however, does it include any citations. Lawyer's Desk Book (Prentice Hall, 10th ed., 1995, with 1997 supplement) covers maximum interest rates, usury penalties, inheritance taxes, and other issues. It has a few lists of state statutes, for arbitration, corporate indemnification, and blue sky laws, but otherwise few citations. A table indicates, for instance, whether a will is automatically revoked in each state by a subsequent marriage, divorce, or birth of a child, but cites no sources.

The Book of the States (Council of State Governments, biennial) provides a wide range of statistics on state government and state laws. It focuses on governmental structure and procedures, but contains a few tables listing state laws governing private activities. Chapter 7 includes tables listing minimum legal ages for marrying, making a will, buying alcohol, serving on a jury, leaving school, and driving a motor vehicle. The "Labor" section in Chapter 8 summarizes laws on workers' compensation, child labor, and minimum wages. Sources for the information in each table are listed, but no citations to statutes are provided.

Julius Fast and Timothy Fast's The Legal Atlas of the United States (Facts on File, 1997) is a colorful volume with more than 100 maps of the country illustrating various legal issues, with emphases on family law and criminal justice. Each chapter includes an introduction, but the inadequate cross-references make flipping back and forth between text and map a challenge. No references to state laws are provided, although a bibliography lists the source for each map.

The sources The Legal Atlas of the United States relies on, such as Uniform Crime Reports 1991 and The 1992 Information Please Almanac , are not terribly current for a 1997 publication. No efforts appear to have been made to update data or to supply data missing from sources. Information from Florida and Iowa, for example, was omitted from a table in Uniform Crime Reports 1991 , so they appear as blank areas on several maps. As both states are included in comparable tables in the 1990 and 1992 editions of the official source, why not use those data? Similarly, the map on laws governing sexual relations between consenting adults has data from only 26 states because that is all the particular source supplied.

The Legal Atlas of the United States is lacking as a basis for further study, but it still makes for fascinating browsing. Several of the maps reveal interesting regional patterns, as in the high DWI arrest rate in the Plains states or the greater restriction on smoking in public places found on the West Coast and in the North. Nevada stands out in several maps with the highest marriage rate, the highest divorce rate, and the highest arrest rate for prostitution.

Several more specialized resources survey state laws in particular fields. These can usually be found in online catalogs under the heading "[subject]," "Law and legislation", "United States", "States," alongside general overviews and specific monographs.

The American Bar Association publishes a number of surveys, some covering specific topics. Most follow a standardized format for each state, making it easy to find information; some reprint excerpts from state statutes. One of the most useful of these surveys is The Wills and Estate Planning Guide: A State and Territorial Summary of Will and Intestacy Statutes (1995), prepared by officers of the Army Judge Advocate General Corps. More specialized works include John E. Floyd's RICO State by State: A Guide to Litigation Under the State Racketeering Statutes (1998) and State by State Survey of the Economic Loss Doctrine in Construction Litigation (1996). One of the ABA's most extensive surveys, State Antitrust Practice and Statutes (3 vols., 1990), is now rather out of date.

Another book that, unfortunately, has not been updated is The State-by-State Guide to Women's Legal Rights , by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and Rene Cherow-O'Leary (McGraw-Hill, 1987). This survey provides a general introduction to major issues concerning women, and a survey for each state of rights in the home, school, workplace, and community. References to statutes and court cases are included, but the information obviously must be checked against more current laws.

Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. publishes several monographs summarizing state laws in specific areas of employment law. These follow a standard outline for each state, which usually involves a question-and-answer format. For example, Brian M. Malsberger's Covenants Not to Compete: A State-by-State Survey (2d ed., 1996) poses such questions as "What type of time or geographic restrictions has the court found to be reasonable? Unreasonable?" Answers include citations to relevant statutes, cases, and law review articles. Other BNA titles include Lionel J. Postic's Wrongful Termination: A State-by-State Survey (1994); Stewart S. Manela and Arnold H. Pedowitz's Employee Duty of Loyalty: A State-by-State Survey (1995); and Arnold H. Pedowitz and Robert W. Sikkel's Trade Secrets: A State-by-State Survey (1997). Some of these titles keep current with annual supplements.

Some surveys are prepared specifically to facilitate comparison of public policy issues between states. Ruth S. Musgrave and Mary Anne Stein's State Wildlife Laws Handbook (Government Institutes, 1993) thoroughly examines the laws in each state governing such issues as hunting and fishing, protected species, and habitat protection. It includes an introductory overview and a state-by-state discussion of administrative agencies' structure and duties as well as the substance of the laws. Citations to state codes are included. The volume also includes several tables providing convenient comparisons of state provisions.

Some state law summaries are designed not just for practical use in situations where quick glimpses of state laws are needed but for their reference value as well. For used car dealers, for example, N.A.D.A. Title and Registration Text Book (National Appraisal Guides, Inc., annual) summarizes motor vehicle laws and regulations for all 50 states and the District of Columbia on issues such as proof of ownership, registration, and licensing. It includes color photocopies of sample title and registration documents, as well as driver's licenses. The licenses include some interesting characters, such as Iama Sample License and Forfun C. Newjersey, but the book provides no citations to code sections.

State law surveys can also be found lurking in more general sources such as directories. Volume 2 of Best's Directory of Recommended Insurance Attorneys and Adjusters (A. M. Best Co., annual), for example, includes a "Digest of Insurance Laws" summarizing state laws. Like Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest , this digest is arranged by state and prepared by law firms in each state. It covers about three dozen insurance topics, such as agents and brokers, no-fault, and release, with citations to state codes. The Adoption Directory (Gale, 2d ed., 1995) includes quick summaries, without citations, of each state's laws on various aspects of adoption. These are combined, of course, with much other useful material, such as addresses of agencies and information about their services.

Finally, some state law surveys are produced by organizations with clearly defined interests. The Libel Defense Resource Center, for example, publishes two annual surveys of state law, LDRC 50-State Survey: Current Developments in Media Libel Law and LDRC 50-State Survey: Media Privacy and Related Law . Separate sections for each state, prepared by local attorneys, answer basic questions about media-related law and provide references to relevant case law and statutes. The LDRC comprises major media organizations, so there is no hint of impartiality in its coverage of these issues.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) publishes Who Decides?: A State-by-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights (annual). Sections for each state summarize selected statutes and regulations, with citations, and charts provide quick multistate comparisons. The NARAL guide is available on the Internet ( ), with links to analyses of recent and pending legislation in each state.

The Internet is a growing source of state law surveys. Many, like NARAL's, are prepared by special interest groups. The American Homebrewers Association ( ) presents a state-by-state summary of the statutory recognition of the home production of beer. Pages for each state summarize and cite relevant statutes, including full-text excerpts of relevant provisions, and provide contact information for agencies.

Some Internet surveys simply provide citations or reprint relevant statutory provisions, but even these can save considerable time for someone needing to compare state laws. The Kansas Elder Law Network ( ) includes several bibliographies prepared by law students, many with unannotated lists of code citations from each state. The Rutgers Animal Rights Law Center ( ) includes surveys of state laws on such issues as anticruelty, hunter harassment, and product disparagement, providing citations and statutory text without commentary. A number of surveys, on the other hand, have quick summaries and plenty of commentary but no citations.

When using any survey, particularly one found on the Internet, it is necessary to be aware of the information's currency and the compilers' perspective. Some sites are regularly maintained by professional organizations, while others may have been prepared by individuals who have since lost interest or haven't had time to continue monitoring them. Abandoned sites can continue to float in cyberspace for years, so it is important to check the date of a site's most recent update.

One way to find Internet surveys in a specific area is to browse a legal subject index, such as FindLaw ( ). Under "Family law," for example, there are links to the Divorce Law Information Service Center ( ), explaining property division rules and residency requirements (without citations). AdoptioNetwork ( ) summarizes state adoption laws (with code references and the full text of some states' laws).

An excellent series of bibliographies, Subject Compilations of State Laws (Greenwood Press [now Carol Boast and Cheryl Nyberg (Twin Falls, Idaho)], 13 vols., 1981-date), provides a more thorough guide to surveys on the Internet and in print. Earlier volumes in this series each covered several years, but supplements are now issued annually. Originally prepared by Lynn Foster and Carol Boast and now by Cheryl Rae Nyberg, these works list surveys and compilations in a wide variety of sources, including treatises, reference books, consumer guides, journals, and cases. Listings range from books reprinting laws in full to journal article footnotes listing citations. Each volume in the series companies that produce leading directories of the federal government.

Carroll's State Directory (Carroll Publishing Co., three times a year in paperback or annually in hardcover) covers the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state government, listing more than 37,000 officials. It has five color-coded sections: reference information, including frequently used telephone numbers and state Web sites; an alphabetical listing of state executives; a state-by-state listing of major agencies; state legislatures; and state supreme courts. A keyword index provides topical access. Information from Carroll's State Directory is available on the Internet through Infospace, . FindLaw provides access to the same information . Both sites include search forms for locating officials by name or title.

State Yellow Book (Leadership Directories, quarterly) contains separate sections providing coverage of executive and legislative branches. The executive branch section covers major departments, commissions, and agencies, with general contact information and some individual names; the legislative branch section includes listings of committees and staff. A one-page-per-state "State Profiles" section provides a brief survey of major demographic information. Indexes by subject and personnel are included. This directory is available on WESTLAW as the STATEYB database.

State Staff Directory (CQ Staff Directories, three times a year) was first published in 1997 and covers more than 40,000 state government officials. Its specialty, like the other Staff Directories, is its nearly 9,000 biographies, including every state legislator and more than 1,000 executive branch officials. Information on legislatures includes committees and their staff. An introductory page for each state features demographic information, an overview of state revenues and expenditures, important telephone numbers, and state Web site addresses. The directory is indexed by individual name and job function.

The Council of State Governments publishes three annual directories of state officials under the umbrella title CSG State Directory (formerly State Leadership Directory). Directory I: Elective Officials lists governors, elected executive branch officials, legislators, and supreme court justices by state; Directory II: Legislative Leadership, Committees and Staff lists officers, committee chairs, and legislative agencies; and Directory III: Administrative Officials lists state officials by function under more than 150 headings. This third directory may be the most valuable because, unlike most sources, it is arranged by function rather than by state. Thus, it is a useful source for concise listings of the names and addresses of governors, secretaries of state, lottery administrators, or state veterinarians. The three CSG directories are available on CD-ROM as well as in print.

Government Phone Book USA (Omnigraphics, annual) is a more general directory with more than 100,000 listings covering federal, state, and local government offices. The coverage of state governments includes a quick reference guide to governors, legislative information sources, and state supreme courts. Each section is indexed separately by keyword.

Other directories focus on agencies responsible for particular records and functions, rather than on state government generally. Sourcebook of State Public Records (BRB Publications, 3d ed., 1997) includes information on such agencies as secretaries of state, motor vehicle departments, and workers' compensation commissions, as well as lists of agencies involved in occupational licensing and business registration. It includes nearly 5,000 professional and business license addresses and telephone numbers.

David P. Bianco's National Directory of State Business Licensing and Regulation (Gale, 1994) covers more than 100 occupations and businesses licensed by state government, from accounting services to wrecking and demolition contractors.

Every state regulates in some areas, such as aerial pest control services and donut shops, while only a few states regulate such businesses as tattoo parlors and travel agencies. Entries provide the addresses and telephone numbers of responsible state agencies and include brief overviews of licenses or permits required, general requirements, fees, and specific activities regulated. They also include useful references to state statutes or regulations, and discuss relevant federal licenses and permits. The volume features a listing of general business licensing agencies in each state and a geographic index. Another volume edited by Bianco, Professional and Occupational Licensing Directory (Gale, 2d ed., 1995), provides similar coverage of licensing procedures for about 500 occupations.

Guides to State Web Sites

Information on state government activity, including the text of legal sources, is increasingly available on the Internet. Approaches differ from state to state, of course, but most states now provide access to statutes, court decisions, and administrative material, as well as general background information and news of current developments.

State Internet information can be found either through comprehensive compilations or directly from general state homepages. The official addresses for state homepages vary, but each answers to the address ( ) (where xx is the two-letter postal code for the state). This works even for states that use other official addresses. The California homepage, for example, is ( ), but ( ) gets you in the door.

Getting to the state homepage is only the start, however. Once there, it is usually clear how to opt for government information rather than other choices such as tourism or economic development. Then it may be clear sailing to the full text of the state constitution, statutes, and administrative regulations. Some states, however, do not make the path so obvious. New York, for example, offers "Citizen's Access to Government," which leads to options for federal, state, and local government. The state link simply provides a long alphabetical list of agencies and offices. Finding legislative information requires the patience to look for "Senate" or "State Assembly" near the bottom of the list.

State idiosyncrasies can make the process frustrating, but several Web sites provide uniform access to resources from each state. Sites such as the following can simplify the procedure for hunting down information from an unfamiliar state government homepage.

  • Piper Resources' State and Local Government on the Net ( ) is one of the most thorough sources of information on state Web sites. Links to general state homepages and the legislative and judicial branches are included, but its strength is in listing executive departments, agencies, and boards, as well as counties and cities on the Web. The focus is on government offices, rather than the full text of statutes or other documents. It also provides links to territorial and tribal governments, regional commissions, and about two dozen national organizations active in state government, such as the Council of State Governments and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
  • The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School provides access to state legal materials ( ). The focus is on the major primary sources of law. A standardized format for each state lists sources such as the constitution, statutes, recent session laws, bills and legislative information, judicial opinions, regulations, and state homepages. Links are included for those sources available at free sites, while other sources are listed but unlinked. This provides convenient access and makes it easy to survey the range of material available for each state. Cornell also provides access to state materials by subject, ( ).
  • Washburn University's WashLaw site includes a StateLaw page ( ) with links to state homepages, legislative information sites (including bill texts and bill tracking pages), courts, statute sites, and miscellaneous state information sites (including state agencies, local government, and state constitutions). Washburn's lists for each state include as many links as it can find to state and local government information. Besides major institutional sites, these links include homepages of individual legislators, both in Congress and in state legislatures, and a variety of historical documents and state organizations.
  • Another major law school site, the Electronic Reference Desk at Emory Law Library, provides numerous links by state ( ) . Sites with documents are sorted by category, including constitutions, bills, statutes, regulations, and cases, and links are provided to administrative agencies and other state organizations.
  • FindLaw provides extensive coverage of state law ( ) . After choosing a state, clicking on "Primary Materials" leads to sources for the constitution, statutes, regulations, and court decisions. As at Cornell's site, items unavailable on the Internet are listed but not linked to any source. Other choices for each state include government information, courts, directories, bar associations, law schools, and law firms.
  • "Full-Text State Statutes and Legislation on the Internet" ( ) is an example of a private Web site providing a valuable perspective not readily available elsewhere. Part of the "scruffy home" site, which also features information on such topics as poodle schnauzers and a Japanese beer vending machine, this list is useful because it limits its coverage to sites providing the full text of state constitutions, statutes, and session laws. Sites are omitted if they have only summaries or incomplete documents, focus on single issues, or charge fees for access. The list is simple but notes variations in state site formats and provides helpful tips (e.g. "The other versions I have seen on the web are flawed"; "You may want to turn off your browser's graphics before you go to this site is larded with enormous graphic files").

Several print sources cover state Internet sites, although these are not as frequently or easily updated as resources on the Web itself. The state resources section of Don McLeod's The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher (Infosources Publishing, 2d ed., 1997) devotes two pages to each state, with an introductory overview; descriptive summaries of major executive, legislative, and judicial sites; and notes on state bar associations, state libraries, and miscellaneous resources from a variety of law firms, law schools, and other providers. James Evans's Government on the Net (Nolo Press, 1998) provides an extensive listing for each state but not much commentary to explain the purpose and scope of the various sites listed. Most of its notes are simply copied from the sites themselves, making it difficult to distinguish between thorough, searchable resources and sketchy homepages with little useful information. Nonetheless, addresses are provided in the book and on the accompanying CD-ROM, Law and Government on the Net . Yvonne J. Chandler's Neal-Schuman Guide to Finding Legal and Regulatory Information on the Internet (Neal-Schuman, 1998) devotes separate chapters to judicial, legislative, and regulatory information, with annotated state-by-state listings in each chapter. A good basic list of major Web sites for each state appears, along with coverage of printed and CD-ROM sources, in Chapter 27, "State Legal Publications and Information Sources," of Kendall F. Svengalis's Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual (Rhode Island LawPress, annual).


Just as the United States Constitution establishes the responsibilities and powers of the national government and guarantees basic freedoms, each state has its own constitution, which is its fundamental law. The state constitution establishes the basic framework of state government and addresses areas untouched in the federal Constitution, such as education, local finance, and voter qualifications. Each state constitution also includes provisions comparable to the Bill of Rights, protecting the basic rights of its citizens, and covers a variety of other matters. Article 19, section 2 of the Arkansas constitution, for example, prohibits anyone participating in a duel from holding state office for 10 years.

The Supreme Court of the United States determines the scope of the protections offered by the U.S. Constitution; likewise, a state's supreme court is the final arbiter of its constitution. A state cannot deprive citizens of federal rights, but it can extend protections beyond those in the federal document. In recent years, the Supreme Court has limited federal constitutional protections for criminal defendants, but some state courts have interpreted comparable clauses in their own constitutions to provide more extensive rights. The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to review a state court's interpretation of its constitution as long as "the state court decision indicates clearly and expressly that it is alternatively based on bona fide separate, adequate, and independent grounds" (Michigan v. Long , 463 U.S. 1032, 1041 [1983]).

State constitutions can be the basis of substantial rights unavailable under federal law. The Connecticut Supreme Court held in Sheff v. O'Neill , 238 Conn. 1, 678 A.2d 1267 (1996), that the state constitution required the integration of the school districts of Hartford and its suburbs. A year earlier, litigants in another case before the same court had claimed that the state had an obligation under its constitution to provide indigent citizens with a minimal level of subsistence, but the court disagreed. (Moore v. Ganim , 233 Conn. 557, 660 A.2d 742 [1995]). Each of these decisions examines sources of constitutional history more than 200 years old and spans nearly 150 pages (including a lengthy dissent in each case) in the Connecticut Reports .

Although state constitutions are similar in function to the U.S. Constitution, in some ways they are quite different. The U.S. Constitution is a venerable, concise document that has been amended only 27 times in more than 200 years. State constitutions tend to be much longer and more detailed, and they are amended and revised regularly. Twenty states still operate under their original constitutions, but most of these have been amended more than 100 times. It is far easier to put an amendment before the voters of a state than it is to seek approval by three-quarters of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution. (A popular vote is not even required in Delaware, where the constitution can be amended by the legislature.)

Even wholesale revision is a simpler matter at the state level. Some states have had several constitutions in their history, with Louisiana's 11 constitutions taking the lead. Since 1960, 10 states have adopted new constitutions. Many states have commissions that study constitutional issues and recommend needed changes, but the normal mode of revision is through a constitutional convention. A proposal to call a convention generally requires approval from the voters, and has been rejected recently in Arkansas (1995) and New York (1997).

The first chapter of The Book of the States provides a good comparative overview of state constitutions. Its first table contains information on the number of constitutions each state has had and the date each was adopted; for the present constitution, it indicates the effective date, approximate length, and number of amendments. The remaining tables in the chapter outline procedures for constitutional change and activities of constitutional commissions.

Current state constitutions are easy to find in several sources. Most are published in pamphlets by state governments, although these may not be widely available in other states. Some states have also published official guides to their constitutions, such as Gordon S. Harrison's Alaska's Constitution: A Citizen's Guide (3d ed., 1992), and Rob Williams et al.'s A Citizens' Guide to the Kentucky Constitution (1993).

Just as the U.S. Constitution is printed in the U.S. Code and its annotated editions, each state code includes a copy of its current constitution. Most are accompanied by annotations of court decisions, which are among the most important resources in understanding the constitutional provisions. Just as the U.S. Constitution cannot be read without considering how it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court, state constitutions must also be read in light of decisions by the state courts.

The state supreme court determines the meaning of its constitution, but the U.S. Supreme Court rules on conflicts between federal and state law. In Torcaso vs. Watkins , 367 U.S. 488 (1961), the Court ruled that a section of the Maryland constitution violated the First Amendment by barring atheists from holding public office. This case shows the importance of reading the annotations as well as the text of the constitution because the provision remains unchanged in the Maryland constitution nearly 40 years later (as do similar provisions in several other state constitutions). Cases citing particular constitutional provisions are also listed in Shepard's state citators, discussed later in this chapter.

The constitutions are included in most CD-ROM state law products, and they are available online on LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW. LEXIS-NEXIS has individual files for each state constitution, such as ALCNST or AKCNST. Most, but not all, of these constitutions are annotated. The constitutions are also included in the code file for each state, and all 50 are in the ALLCDE file in the CODES or STATES library. There is no separate 50-state file for constitutions.

WESTLAW does not have separate constitution databases, but the state constitutions are included in both annotated (AL-ST-ANN, AK-ST-ANN) and unannotated (AL-STAT, AK-STAT) code databases, and in the multistate databases ST-ANN-ALL and STAT-ALL. WESTLAW also has a Table of Contents service making it possible to browse through a constitution's articles and sections. LEXIS-NEXIS has a similar feature for state statutes but not for constitutions.

Most states also provide the text of their constitutions at state Web sites. Direct links to constitutions are provided by several of the multistate sites listed earlier in this chapter. In FindLaw, for example, choosing "Primary Materials" for a state leads to a list of sources, beginning with the constitution; direct links to the available constitutions are collected at ( ).

Most of the state constitutions on the Internet are part of official state Web sites, but a few are provided by law schools or commercial sites. Usually they provide the complete document but no annotations. The University of Mississippi's copy of the state constitution ( ) has only the Preamble and Article 3, with no explanation that its coverage is limited. A commercial site ( ) has the entire document, but searching is accessible only to subscribers.

Reference Guides to the State Constitutions of the United States , a series of volumes published by Greenwood Press, provides an excellent place to begin research in particular states' constitutions. This series began with Robert F. Williams's The New Jersey State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1990) and has continued through eight years and 30 state constitutions. A convenient list of volumes appears in the front of each new addition to the series, and most library catalogs list entries under the series title. The states not yet covered as of 1998 are Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington.

Almost all volumes in the Reference Guides series have been written by leading constitutional scholars in the respective states. Most are political scientists, but the roster includes several law professors, some practicing attorneys, and two retired state supreme court justices. Not until the 29th volume was the job assumed by an outsiderÑ The Iowa State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1998) was written by Jack Stark, assistant chief counsel of Wisconsin's Legislative Reference Bureau and author of The Wisconsin State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1997). Perhaps the states for which volumes have not yet been published lack any constitutional scholars willing to take on the project.

The books follow a standard format. Each begins with an overview of the state's constitutional history. The most extensive part is a section-by-section analysis of the constitution, reprinting the text of each section with a discussion of its background and judicial interpretations. Almost every volume also contains a bibliographical essay, with helpful recommendations and comments on sources for further study. Tables of cases and indexes round out the book. According to the general editor's notes, the series will eventually include a comprehensive index and a general volume covering themes common to all state constitutions.

The state Reference Guides provide a good introductory overview of a state's constitution, but they are not written for practical legal use. For a more focused analysis of the application of state constitutional law in civil and criminal litigation, the leading treatise is Jennifer Friesen's State Constitutional Law: Litigating Individual Rights, Claims, and Defenses (Michie, 2d ed., 1996, with annual pocket part supplement). This work focuses on the rights of privacy, equal treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression; civil actions for violations of state constitutional rights; and the rights of the accused in investigative and criminal proceedings. A shorter, paperback introduction is Thomas C. Marks, Jr.'s State Constitutional Law in a Nutshell (West Publishing, 1988). Constitutional developments can be tracked through State Constitutional Law Bulletin (National Association of Attorneys General, 10 times per year), which summarizes new court decisions interpreting state constitutional provisions. The Bulletin is available online through LEXIS-NEXIS (LEGNEW library, AGSTCN file) and WESTLAW (NAAGSCLB database). A new Congressional Quarterly volume scheduled for publication in late 1998, Robert L. Maddex's State Constitutions of the United States , promises encyclopedic coverage of all 50 constitutions, including historical background, summaries of key points, and comparative charts on specific issues.

Constitutions of the United States: National and State (Oceana, 7 vols., 2d ed., 1974-date) is a collection of pamphlets reprinting all the current state constitutions, as well as those for several U.S. territories. Pamphlets are periodically replaced to keep the set up-to-date. Having the constitutions in one set facilitates multistate research, although it has no comprehensive index. Two topical indexes have been published, however, covering "Fundamental Liberties and Rights" (1980) and "Laws, Legislature, Legislative Procedure" (1982). Because constitutions change relatively infrequently, an earlier, more comprehensive Index Digest of State Constitutions (Legislative Drafting Research Fund of Columbia University, 2d ed., 1959, with 1971 supplement covering through 1967) may still be useful.

Older constitutions can be found in the annotated codes for some of the states. West's Louisiana Statutes Annotated , for example, includes nine earlier Louisiana constitutions (all but the 1861 constitution, which made no substantive changes and merely changed references to "United States of America" to "Confederate States of America"). Only about half of the codes for states with superseded constitutions include these earlier texts; the others limit their coverage to current documents.

Other, comprehensive sources provide information on older constitutions. A standard source, still found in many libraries, is Benjamin Perley Poore's The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws (GPO, 2d ed., 1878). This oversized two-volume set was updated a few decades later in a smaller but more voluminous seven-volume edition by Francis Newton Thorpe (GPO, 1909). Both of these editions have been reprinted, Thorpe most recently by William S. Hein & Co. in 1993.

A more modern publication, Sources and Documents of United States Constitutions , edited by William F. Swindler (Oceana, 11 vols., 1973Ð79), contains constitutions and other documents such as land grants and statehood acts, but most of these are simply photocopies from Poore's collection and other sources. Each state's entry contains a brief background note and a short bibliography. This publication includes useful tables for states with more than one constitution, comparing the location of various subjects in each document.

Just as the Federalist and other framers' writings may be useful in interpreting the terms of the United States Constitution, documents are available for studying the preparation of state constitutions. Among the most useful of these are the journals and proceedings of constitutional conventions. These are of varying quality, and some are compilations of newspaper reports rather than verbatim transcripts. Many of the earlier volumes are not indexed, so finding a discussion of a particular issue may require considerable patience.

References to the documents of constitutional conventions are available in a series of bibliographies. Cynthia E. Browne's State Constitutional Conventions from Independence to the Completion of the Present Union, 1776-1959: A Bibliography (Greenwood Press, 1973) has been supplemented by State Constitutional Conventions, Commissions & Amendments, 1959-1978: An Annotated Bibliography (CIS, 2 vols., 1981) and State Constitutional Conventions, Commissions & Amendments, 1979-1988: An Annotated Bibliography (CIS, 1989). The documents listed in these bibliographies are available from CIS on more than 10,000 microfiche.


The current subject compilation of a state's statutes is often the first place to find answers to state law questions. The statutes do not cover every aspect of state law because some areas remain matters of common law determined over the course of time by the courts. But state legislatures have enacted laws governing such broad areas that it is usually prudent to look first for relevant statutes.

Statutory language, however, is notorious for being either too sparse or too convoluted, which is why it is usually easier to begin with a secondary source that explains the law. Treatises and state encyclopedias outline legal doctrines and provide references to relevant statutes, and multistate reference works, such as those discussed earlier in this chapter, can provide quick summaries and access to the appropriate statutory provisions.

Collections of a state's statutes are among its most important legal publications, and they are usually available not only in law libraries but in most larger academic and public libraries as well. Statutes from other states are less widely available, but they too should be found in law school libraries. Under the American Bar Association's accreditation standards, one requirement of a core library collection is "at least one current annotated code for each state."

Published Codes

State statutes are published in forms similar to those used for federal statutes. Statutes in force are arranged by subject, assigned section or article numbers, and issued in compilations known as codes . Some states have officially published editions, like the United States Code . Most of these are published by the states themselves, but a few are published by West Group under official supervision.

General Statutes of Connecticut (16 vols., biennial)
Official Florida Statutes (5 vols., biennial, with interim supps.)
Illinois Compiled Statutes (West, 9 vols., biennial, with interim supps.)
Indiana Code (13 vols., quinquennial, with annual supps.)
Code of Iowa (5 vols., biennial, with interim supps.)
General Laws of Massachusetts (West, 17 vols., biennial, with interim supps.)
Minnesota Statutes (15 vols., biennial, with interim pocket parts)
Missouri Revised Statutes (9 vols., every 7 or 8 years, with annual supps.)
Oklahoma Statutes (West, 6 vols., every 10 years, with annual supps.)
Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (7 loose-leaf vols., updated semiannually)
Revised Code of Washington (9 vols., biennial, with interim supps.)
Wisconsin Statutes and Annotations (5 vols., biennial)

These publications are the official source of the statutes, but they are not the most useful versions because they do not include the extensive notes of court decisions found in annotated codes. Nonetheless, they may be the most widely available sources in general libraries within the state. Some of the annotated codes are both expensive and voluminous, and can be found only in larger libraries. But statutes in many states with official publications specify that copies be distributed without charge to college and public libraries, see, e.g., Ind. Code Section 2-6-1.5-4; Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 3.130. These statutes ensure that citizens have at least some access to their state's laws.

Besides these official publications, a few other states have commercial unannotated editions published to provide convenient desktop access to statutes. Because court decisions play such a vital role in interpreting statutes, however, the most important statutory publications are annotated codes combining the text of the statute with notes of court decisions and other information. At least one annotated code is published for each state.

Exhibits 11-2 and 11-3 show the publication of adoption statutes in the Arkansas Code of 1987 Annotated and West's Revised Code of Washington Annotated . These sample pages show some of the information provided by annotated state codes. In both instances, the actual text of the statutes is easy to pick out because it is in the largest type and not set in columns.

Annotated state codes provide a variety of other valuable information besides the statutory text. Each section is followed by a note indicating the year and number of the session law in which it was enacted. If a section has been amended, the later session law is noted as well. In the Arkansas section shown in Exhibit 11-2, this note (marked "History") also provides the citation to this section in the earlier codification, Arkansas Statutes Annotated 1947 . The Washington section in Exhibit 11-3 was amended in 1988, and the "Historical and Statutory Notes" explain exactly what change was made. The Washington notes go on to list previous, comparable provisions and amendments back to 1943.

Only some state codes, unfortunately, follow the practice of the U.S. Code in providing notes explaining the nature of each change in the statutory language. Some codes include extensive notes detailing each change over the course of several decades, while a few have explanatory notes on the most recent change only. Fully half of the state codes, however, provide nothing more than a list of session law references. If a statute in such a code was amended in 1993 and 1996, there is no way of telling how it read in 1994 without consulting the session laws.

These statutory references are followed by "Research References" or "Library References." Depending on the code, these provide citations to law review articles, state legal encyclopedias, practice treatises, and digests. In Exhibit 11-2, the LEXIS Law Publishing code for Arkansas has a reference to a law review article, while West's Washington code in Exhibit 11-3 includes references for use in its digests, legal encyclopedia (C.J.S.), and WESTLAW.

Finally, the code sections are followed by "Case Notes" or "Notes of Decisions." The scope and style of these case annotations vary. Some codes have numbered subdivisions, while others use boldface headings to sort material. No matter what format, these annotations provide references to court decisions applying and interpreting these particular sections.

Although the sample pages shown in Exhibits 11-2 and Exhibit 11-3 both include annotations of court decisions, this is by no means true for every code section. Many state statutes have never been considered in published appellate court decisions. An example of a vital piece of legislation with no interpretive notes is the Georgia law, enacted in 1976, that prohibits anyone but the owner from gathering pecans that fall on public roadways during harvest season, (Ga. Code Ann. Section 44-12-240 to 44-12-243). This law has been on the books for more than 20 years, but there are no notes of cases interpreting its scope or adjudicating its constitutionality.

Annotated codes vary considerably in size, ranging from a dozen volumes (Alaska) to more than 200 (California), and in the amount of editorial information they provide. Some are published under official sanction, while others are purely commercial ventures. Most are the work of two companies, LEXIS Law Publishing (which is gradually changing its imprint from Michie; 31 states), and West Group (25 states). Both publishers are represented in several of the larger states with competing code publications, much like West's United States Code Annotated (USCA) and LEXIS Law Publishing's United States Code Service (USCS) . The only states not covered are Kansas and Montana (although West does publish annotated Kansas laws in selected areas such as civil procedure and probate).

Most state codes, like USCA and USCS , are published in bound volumes and supplemented by annual pocket parts, but a few codes are published in binders with loose-leaf supplements, and others have freestanding pamphlet supplements rather than pocket parts. In a few states where legislatures meet every other year, the codes have biennial pocket parts, but these are further supplemented in alternate years with pamphlets for new case annotations. Most codes are updated further between annual supplements by additional pamphlets. Almost all have softcover index volumes, which are replaced annually.

Table 11-1 indicates the current annotated codes published for each state, with the number of volumes and basic form of supplementation or frequency of replacement. Earlier titles and publishers are indicated for some codes to facilitate identifying these publications in online catalogs or other sources.

As is apparent, the names of codes vary from state to state. Some are called Revised Codes , some are Revised Statutes , and others are known as Codified Laws or Consolidated Laws . Some state code titles include a date, such as Alaska Statutes 1962 , but these are simply the dates of the most recent recodifications. They linger in the titles of codes just to confuse people. (These dates are usually omitted in citations, but because they appear as part of titles in online catalogs they are left in to avoid further confusion.)

The abbreviation used for a state code may depend on the source in which it is cited. Law reviews, and academic literature generally, follow forms decreed in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (16th ed., 1996), but court decisions and other documents are not bound by Bluebook rules. The Bluebook demands that the section in Exhibit 11-3 be cited as "Wash. Rev. Code. Section 26.33.170," but the Washington Supreme Court would instead cite it as "RCW 26.33.170." The court's abbreviation is more concise and is instantly recognizable to Washington attorneys, but it may be more difficult to decipher for a reader unfamiliar with local legal shorthand.

The arrangement of state codes also varies considerably. Most states have a division into titles and sections, in an arrangement similar to the federal statutes, but several states have individual codes designated by subject rather than title number. California, for example, has 29 separate subject codes, such as the Family Code, Penal Code, and Revenue Code. A few states are in the process of recodifying their laws. Pennsylvania is creating its first official codification, with a numbering system similar to the unofficial one that has been in use. Until this project is completed, the Pennsylvania set has some unofficial Pennsylvania Statutes titles and some official Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes titles, sometimes in the same volume and with the same title number. Maryland and Texas have both an older general sequence of numbered articles and a series of subject codes. Maryland's annotated code even has two distinct color bindings, black for the older articles and maroon for the newer subject codes. Michigan has a different problem, with two code publications using different numbering systems. Court rules require that both be cited.

Most states have a code commission or revisor of statutes who is responsible for compiling and editing the legislature's enactments into a coherent, systematic body of law, rearranging portions as needed, and correcting typographical errors and inconsistencies. In some states, revisors also work with legislators in drafting bills and assigning section numbers to proposed legislation. Minn. Stat. Section 3C.04, perhaps drafted with an overbearing staffer in mind, specifies, "The revisor's office shall give members of the legislature advice concerning the legal effect of bills or proposed bills, but only at the request of the members."

The list above indicates how many volumes are in each set, but this number fluctuates regularly as replacement volumes are issued to accommodate new statutes and annotations. Some codes attempt to number each volume, which leads to some bizarre results, such as the volume of Minnesota Statutes Annotated numbered "32 to 34" or the West's Florida Statutes Annotated volumes "14A part 1," "14A part 2," and "14A part 3." There is always room in which to squeeze a new volume number; if volume 1 is followed by volume 1A, a new volume between them can be called volume 1 1/2. The editors of several sets have recognized that trying to number volumes coherently is hopeless and rely instead on identifying volumes by title or section numbers. New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated started out with numbered volumes but gave up years ago, and only volume 4 (1983) remains in the current set.

Unlike a citation to the U.S. Code , in which the title number precedes the abbreviation, followed by the section number, as in "42 U.S.C. Section 1983," most state codes are classified in one sequence of numbers and are simply cited by section number. The codes are divided into titles, but the section numbering frequently incorporates the title number. The Arkansas section in Exhibit 11-2, for example, is part of Title 9, Family Law, but it is cited as Ark. Code. Ann. Section 9-9-216.

Differences in the arrangement of state codes are not simply a matter of classification. States can view similar issues in different contexts. In more than half the states, for instance, the topic of adoption is considered part of domestic relations or family law, but several states have titles or codes dealing specifically with children. Alabama uses the endearing title "Infants and Incompetents," combining two older legal terms for persons considered incapable of handling their own affairs. A few states put adoption among public welfare statutes, and some place it with other statutes on the jurisdiction of the probate courts. In New Jersey, adoption is part of an "Adoption, Apprenticeship and Indenture" subtitle of the "Children" title, even though the "Apprenticeship and Indenture" chapter was repealed in 1953.

The format of individual code provisions on adoption can vary widely as well. Some states have concise sections spelling out the law in plain English. Ark. Code. Ann. ¤ 9-9-203 has just five words: "Any individual may be adopted." On the other hand, Tenn. Code Ann. Section 36-1-111 takes more than 15 pages and nearly 8,000 words to address issues involving birthparents' consent.

Access to state codes is provided by indexes and tables similar to those for the U.S. Code . Each state code is accompanied by an extensive index of up to five volumes. These indexes are the main point of entry for finding statutes, although like the federal code indexes, they can be frustrating to work with. Some index volumes even include toll-free numbers for assistance and postcards inviting suggestions for improvement.

Almost every code is also accompanied by a set of tables providing valuable cross-references from session laws and from older codifications. These tables can be invaluable when trying to find the relevant statutory language at issue in a court decision. In 1992, Illinois adopted its first official recodification since 1874, completely changing the numbering system used for its statutes. To find a law cited in an earlier court decision, one must turn first to a table to determine its present location. Even in states that have not recodified their statutes, individual sections are frequently moved or replaced. Of the adoption statutes surveyed in early 1996 for the second edition of the National Survey of State Laws , for example, at least three have completely changed locations in their codes. These can be found through cross-references at the old location or through tables indicating the disposition of each of the older sections. Only if these sources fail is it necessary to turn to the subject index under "Adoption."

Because the depth and quality of annotated state codes vary, it may be useful to know of another means of finding materials citing state code provisions. Shepard's publishes a series of state citators, such as Shepard's Alabama Citations and Shepard's Alaska Citations . These cover citations to both cases and statutes in court decisions, law review articles, and other sources. The law reviews covered for each state usually include any general interest reviews published in the state, as well as 19 leading law reviews that receive comprehensive coverage. As in Shepard's Federal Statute Citations , cases and articles discussing or citing code provisions are listed under the specific section or subsection cited. This should duplicate the coverage in the code annotations, but some cases and articles not cited in the code may appear. Most Shepard's state citators are updated monthly, and new cases may be listed before they are incorporated in code supplements.

In addition, the Shepard's citators include references to cases and articles citing other sources, such as the state constitution, uncodified laws, and court rules, as well as citations in the state's court decisions to the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes. They also claim to include references to legislative amendments to code provisions, but this coverage is glaringly inconsistent from state to state. Some states' amendments are noted within a year, while for others the coverage is several years out of date. The publisher does not differentiate between the states it keeps current and those it does not, so one must analyze carefully these listings before relying on them.

Shepard's citators for state statutes can be accessed through LEXIS-NEXIS as well as in print, and through the Internet ( ). Coverage for about 18 states is available through WESTLAW. One can achieve similar results by entering statutory citations as search terms in full-text databases of cases and journal articles. In the latter instance, a full-text search may turn up citing articles in journals not included within Shepard's rather narrow coverage.

Finally, although most legal research takes place in the current state code, older editions are often needed in historical research. This research may require not only superseded volumes from current annotated code sets but previous codifications dating as far back as the seventeenth century. Most major law libraries have these publications, in either microform or hard copy. The earliest "codes" were simply chronological compilations of statutes in force, but by the early nineteenth century most of the early states had subject arrangements of statutes. These were periodically revised as the old code grew outdated, leaving us a convenient trail of a state's statutory history. The indexes to the earliest codes are primitive, but over time indexing became more refined and thorough.

One way to approach older code volumes is to trace the references in a current provision back through history to determine their roots. In Exhibit 11-3, for example, the notes include citations to "Former Section 26.32.040, 26.32.050," which could be found in a superseded volume of West's Revised Code of Washington Annotated , and to "RRS Section-1699-5, 1699-6," references to an earlier codification, Remington's Revised Statutes of Washington . If related provisions on this topic go back further in time, it would be possible to turn to Remington's Revised Statutes of Washington and track down the older citations found in its statutory notes.

Older state codes are listed in most bibliographies and guides of legal resources for specific states. An extensive checklist of codes and compilations from all states appears in section 1 of Pimsleur's Checklists of Basic American Legal Publications (Rothman, 3 vols., 1962-date). This checklist provides only title, publisher, date, and number of pages or volumes, but it is a useful source for identifying early publications. References to codes can be found in online library catalogs, although the author is simply the name of the state and the same subject tracing ("Law-[state]") is used for a variety of general treatises and encyclopedias on state law.

Electronic Codes

State statutes are also available in several electronic formats. Most state codes are now accessible on the Internet, although a few states are still dragging their feet. Like the Internet versions of the U.S. Code , however, these free versions generally do not include important editorial additions such as notes of court decisions.

The easiest way to find state codes on the Internet is to go through one of the multistate Web sites described above because tracking them down from state homepages is not always a simple matter. Some are part of legislative information systems, while others are presented by code commissions, revisors of statutes, or private organizations.

Table 11-2 provides addresses for state codes available without charge on the Internet. Generally, these codes can be accessed through keyword searches by browsing through titles and sections, or by retrieving a particular section number. Most of the addresses listed in Table 11-2 lead directly to the state codes, but in a few instances keyword searching and code tables of contents are presented at separate sites. In these instances, the addresses for legislative sites providing access to the various options are listed. Some state codes, unfortunately, are given much less prominence on these sites than such items as biographies of legislators. Entries for several states are blank, but the number of these glaring omissions is decreasing with time.

Most of the sites listed are presented by state governments, but a few are commercial sites providing free access to unannotated statutes. The same Web site address is provided for Delaware, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Tennessee, all of which are available as Folio infobases from their publisher. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have only selected statutes available.

Needless to say, the format of these Internet sites varies widely. Some are friendly and easily navigable. Others are primitive. Almost all are searchable, although idiosyncrasies exist. Kentucky's statutes can be searched, but only in four separate parts by section number. Only individual titles can be searched in North Dakota. Connecticut's site has no search option, but it provides access to the three-volume code index. There are no links from the index to code sections, so once a subject reference is found it is necessary to go back and click to the appropriate section. Utah's search engine, YeeHaw!, searches not only the code but all of the state government Web servers.

When using state codes on the Internet, it is important to note how current and how authoritative the information is. Some Web sites, even those directly from state legislatures, warn that their's is not the official text and that printed sources must be consulted if locating the exact text of the statute is critical. The Vermont site, for example, has a disclaimer that its version "was created for the use and convenience of the members and staff of the Vermont Legislature" and was not in any sense the "official" text enacted into law. Other sites can be more than a year out of date because it may take time for new amendments to be added to the database. Some Web sites are careful to notify users of limitations, but in other instances it may be necessary to hunt around for the date statutes were last updated.

The leading commercial sources for state statutes, as with other legal materials, are LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW. Both have codes from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. WESTLAW's collection is more thorough, with both annotated and unannotated versions of each state's statutes. The annotated edition uses the suffix "-ST-ANN" (AL-ST-ANN or WY-ST-ANN), and the unannotated edition uses "-ST" (AL-ST or WY-ST). Although access to annotations is important in statutory research, a full-text search in the annotated code may turn up hundreds of irrelevant documents in which the terms appear only in casenotes. A search in the unannotated database may focus retrieval more specifically on pertinent code sections. On the other hand, sometimes language in the annotations may help locate sections that would otherwise be missed because the statutory language is too obtuse.

LEXIS-NEXIS does not distinguish as clearly between annotated and unannotated statutes. Files with state statutes are found in the individual state libraries (from ALA to WYO), with the file name CODE. More comprehensive files combining the codes with the constitution and recent session laws can be retrieved from the CODES and STATES libraries by adding the word CODE to the state abbreviation (ALCODE, WYCODE). Although most of the LEXIS-NEXIS codes include annotations, at least 11 (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas) do not. Some of these do not even have history notes explaining when sections were enacted or amended, while others indicate only the year of the most recent amendment. Because the LEXIS-NEXIS file names do not differentiate between annotated and unannotated products, its code databases must be used with caution.

The importance of access to annotations in interpreting statutes cannot be overstated. Under Maine's sardine tax law, 36 Me. Rev. Stat. ¤¤ 4692A-4700, for instance, LEXIS-NEXIS provides no casenotes or cross-references. WESTLAW's version, and the published code, provide cross-references to other statutes governing sardine packers and note that this law was upheld as constitutional in State v. Stinson Canning Co. , 161 Me. 320, 211 A.2d 553 (1965). Other cases are noted as well, including one defining sardine to include only whole fish and not "herring chunks" from which heads and tails had been removed (State v. Milbridge Canning Corp. , 159 Me. 1, 186 A.2d 789 [1963]). (The free Internet site from the Maine legislature also lacks these annotations but it still provides good value for the price.)

WESTLAW has other useful features for code research. Separate databases for code indexes (AL-ST-IDX, WY-ST-IDX) may help narrow a search that turns up too many documents in a full-text database. A more important feature is the display of an individual code section with links for its chapter and title, allowing one to scan the list of neighboring sections or chapters to get a better sense of a statute's scope and context. LEXIS-NEXIS does not have quick links from a section to the table of contents, but it has a browse feature for viewing adjacent code sections. Both systems also provide ways to find statutes by browsing the entire code's table of contents (TOC AL ST on WESTLAW, ALTOC on LEXIS-NEXIS).

Both systems also include notices with statutes that have been recently amended by slip laws too new to have been incorporated into the code database. WESTLAW's notice reads "This document has been amended. Use > Update," and LEXIS-NEXIS's note reads "Status: Consult slip laws cited below for recent changes to this document." Both provide convenient ways to link directly to the text of the new laws.

Finally, both WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS maintain databases with superseded versions of the state codes for times when it is necessary to reconstruct the statute in force at a particular time. WESTLAW has individual year databases going back as far as 1986, depending on state (AL-STANN95), while the LEXIS-NEXIS files (AL1995) generally extend back to 1991.

Several other commercial sources offer online access to statutes. On the Internet, LOIS (Law Office Information Systems) ( ) includes statutes for 18 of the states for which it provides court opinions, and V. ( ) is beginning to add statutes. Other commercial Web sites, such as LawNetCom, Inc. ( ) , focus on individual states.

Every state also has at least one CD-ROM product containing its statutes. Some of these are combined with court decisions, while others are simply the annotated versions of the statutes. As might be expected, the major multistate publishers of CD-ROMs are the same companies that produce the printed codes: LEXIS Law Publishing and West Group. Other publishers focus on individual states, with a variety of products. Although many of these are less expensive than those from the major publishers, most are nonetheless rather substantial investments. Only a few CD-ROMs providing unannotated codes, including several issued by state governments, are relative bargains. These CD-ROM products are listed by state in Chapter 27 of Kendall F. Svengalis's Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual (Rhode Island LawPress, annual) and by title in Directory of Law-Related CD-ROMs (Infosources Publishing, annual). The latter work includes state code CDs in its index under the heading "Statutes-[state]."

Session Laws

State laws, like federal laws, are first published as individual slip laws and in chronological volumes of session laws. These volumes are not used as often as the codes in statutory research, but they can help determine the law in force at a particular date or analyze changes in the law. In some states, the session laws are also the authoritative version of the laws (like the U.S. Statutes at Large ) and would be the controlling version if discrepancies were to be found in language between session law and code.

References to codes and session laws can sometimes be confused, particularly when they have such similar names. Many session laws are called Acts , but General Laws of Massachusetts and Minnesota Statutes are codes, while General Laws of Mississippi and California Statutes are session laws. Consulting the Bluebook for the citation forms for each state may help. Citations with section symbols (¤) and decimals are most likely to codes, while citations beginning with a year rather than a volume number are usually to session laws.

Unlike the federal Statutes at Large , many state session law publications make it easy to find changes in statutory language by indicating additions and deletions in special typefaces. Entire sections are usually printed, with new material indicated in italics and deletions shown by the striking out of text. It is thus relatively easy to understand the nature of the amendments.

Slip laws are not widely distributed in most states, but the collected session laws are available in larger libraries either as bound annual volumes or in microform. A comprehensive microfiche set dating back to 1776, Session Laws of American States and Territories , is available from William S. Hein & Co. Section 2 of Pimsleur's Checklists of Basic American Legal Publications provides a comprehensive listing of published session laws for each state as far back as the 1660s. The earliest listings are the most interesting. The first Georgia law printed in 1735 was an act to prevent the importation and use of rum and brandies. The section for New Jersey notes that its legislature passed no laws at five consecutive sessions, between 1705 and 1708.

Before the official annual volumes are published, commercial publications in most states provide the text of new laws in pamphlet form. These are published by LEXIS Law Publishing ([State] Advance Legislative Service) and West Group ([State] Session Law Service or [State] Legislative Service) for most of the states for which they publish codes. They serve the same purpose as the USCS Advance pamphlets, providing access to recently enacted legislation.

Although older session laws are only available in print or microform, recent session laws are widely available electronically. Almost every state now provides access to recent legislation on its homepage. The simplest way to find this material is through one of the multistate sites listing state primary sources, as discussed earlier in this chapter. "State Laws on the Internet" ( ) provides a regularly updated survey of session laws and bills on the legislatures' Web sites and other sources.

The commercial databases also provide comprehensive access to recent state session laws, albeit in different ways. On WESTLAW, databases such as AL-LEGIS or AK-LEGIS cover only the current legislative session, with older sessions in separate databases (AL-LEGIS-OLD or AK-LEGIS-OLD). LEXIS-NEXIS combines current and former sessions in files such as ALALS or AKALS (in several libraries, including CODES, LEGIS, and STATES). In both services, coverage of every state extends back at least to 1991; laws from as early as 1987 are available for some states.

Multistate Sources

A state code is the most important source for the statutes of any individual state. Several resources, however, contain statutes from several states. Like the multistate surveys discussed earlier in this chapter, these can provide easy access to state laws by topic. They also are useful in comparing state laws and in finding analogous provisions. A court that has not had to interpret a section of its state code will often look to other states to see how their courts have handled similar issues.

Although most laws vary from state to state, some are specifically designed to read the same way in each jurisdiction. Basing state statutes on the same model can simplify interstate commerce and ease conflicts in determining which state's laws apply in case of disputes. Formed in 1892, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws has drafted more than 200 uniform laws on a wide variety of subjects, many of which have been adopted in one or more states.

The National Conference has prepared a number of influential laws, including the Uniform Probate Code, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, and the Uniform Commercial Code. None of them has any force of law unless enacted by a state legislature. Each legislature is free to modify the text as it sees fit, although major changes would undermine the purpose of having a uniform law in the first place. Besides uniform laws, the Conference prepares model acts in areas in which uniformity between states is not a major concern, such as eminent domain and administrative procedure.

An enacted uniform law or model act appears in the state code. The state code is the official source, and it includes whatever changes or amendments were made by the state legislature. A national publication, Uniform Laws Annotated (West Publishing, 38 vols., 1968-date) is useful because it contains the text as approved by the National Conference, drafters' comments, and annotations to court decisions from jurisdictions that have adopted each act. Cases from another state are not binding precedent, but they can be persuasive in interpreting the same language. Some acts, such as the Uniform Commercial Code and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, have several volumes of notes and annotations.

Each act in Uniform Laws Annotated is preceded by a list of states that have adopted it, with references to the session laws, effective dates, and code citations. State variations for each section are usually indicated, although a general note may specify that a state's version "departs from the official text in such manner that the various instances of substitution, omission, and additional matter cannot be clearly indicated by statutory notes." The laws are arranged by subject, with several volumes each of business and financial laws; estate, probate, and related laws; and matrimonial, family, and health laws. A handy pamphlet accompanying the set, Directory of Uniform Acts and Codes; TablesÑIndex , contains a directory listing the acts alphabetically, a table of jurisdictions listing the acts adopted in each state, and a brief general index to the acts. Each act has its own more extensive index in the back of its volume.

Another convenient source for uniform acts is Volume 2 of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest (annual), which includes the text of several dozen acts. It does not, however, include either the drafters' comments or annotations.

The National Conference has drafts of several uniform laws and model acts still under consideration on the Internet ( ) , available in PDF, WordPerfect, or plain text versions. It does not, unfortunately, include the texts of older uniform acts that have been adopted by states. Several major acts, however, are available from Cornell's Legal Information Institute ( ). This site includes the text of the Uniform Commercial Code, as well as lists for about 40 uniform acts of links to state Web sites where the adopted versions are found.

Uniform Laws Annotated is available online in WESTLAW as the ULA database, and the 2NDARY library in LEXIS-NEXIS includes separate files containing the UCC, with official comments, and more than two dozen other uniform and model acts as printed in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest .

Other organizations producing model state legislation include the American Law Institute (Model Penal Code), the American Bar Association (Model Business Corporation Act), and the Council of State Governments, which publishes an annual volume of Suggested State Legislation . Most of the acts in this last series are based on statutes passed by one state, and are published so that the states can benefit from each others' experiences. Each act is preceded by a brief explanatory introduction and a citation to the enacted legislation on which it is based. A cumulative index in each volume covers acts published in the series during the preceding 20 years.

Even when an issue is not the subject of a uniform or model act, state legislatures look to each other for inspiration on how to address matters of common concern. Five years after Georgia passed its 1976 legislation against unlawful pecan gathering, Mississippi enacted legislation with virtually identical language (Miss. Code ¤¤ 69-33-1 to 69-33-9). (Some subjects, of course, are peculiarly local. The Maine sardine tax law discussed earlier in this chapter has not been replicated by any other state legislatures.)

Several sources make multistate research easier by reprinting state statutes on particular subjects. Chief among these are some of the major loose-leaf services. Blue Sky Law Reports (CCH) includes state security statutes, accompanied by relevant regulations and an overview for each state. The CD-ROM version of Environment Reporter (BNA) includes state laws on mining, solid waste, and air and water pollution. (These were formerly in the print version as well, but updating was discontinued in 1994.) Labor Relations Reporter (BNA) includes state laws on such issues as laborÐmanagement relations, employment practices, wage and hour regulation, and child labor. Corporation, A Service (Aspen Law & Business) contains corporation laws from every state, as well as case annotations and a practice guide.

Other compilations of state laws focus on narrower issues. State Compensation Laws (CCH, 1998) is a large paperback volume covering minimum wage, equal pay, child labor, and overtime laws. Refusal of Treatment Legislation: A State by State Compilation of Enacted and Model Statutes (Society for the Right to Die [now Choice in Dying], 1992-date, updated annually) includes introductory "highlights" for each state, followed by the unannotated text of the statutes. Abortion in the United States: A Compilation of State Legislation (William S. Hein & Co., 1991, 2 vols.), edited by Howard A. Hood, contains statutes arranged by state in Volume 1, and by topic in Volume 2. A 1992 supplement to this publication provided a few more recent enactments, but no further updates have been published. Several of the Internet surveys discussed earlier in this chapter also provide the full text of relevant statutes.

The broadest multistate coverage can be found through WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS. Both have databases with all 50 states' codes and session laws. On WESTLAW, ST-ANN-ALL has annotated codes, STAT-ALL unannotated codes, and LEGIS-ALL session laws from the current legislative sessions. On LEXIS-NEXIS, the ALLCDE file has a combination of annotated and unannotated codes, while ALLALS provides access to several years' worth of session laws from each state. These databases can be useful for finding similar statutes in numerous states, but be aware that different legislatures can use different words to express the same concepts. One simple example is that 47 states have laws outlawing drug paraphernalia, but Georgia law uses the term "drug related objects" instead of "paraphernalia" (Ga. Code. Ann. ¤¤ 16-13-32 to 16-13-32.2). A search for "drug paraphernalia" in the statutory text would miss these Georgia provisions, although the phrase does show up in the code's research references and annotations.

Legislative Information

At the state level, current bills and reports on their status are readily available through commercial databases and official Web sites. Publications that would be useful in interpreting enacted legislation, however, can be difficult to obtain.

Guides and Directories

Legislative processes vary from state to state, so an important first step in studying legislative action is to learn the procedures for a particular jurisdiction. Most states publish introductory guides to the legislative process, including charts showing how bills become laws. Many of these guides are also available on state legislature Web sites. Florida's site ( ) includes an extensive "Citizen's Guide" providing a thorough introduction to the work of its legislature.

The leading national directory of available information sources is Lynn Hellebust's State Legislative Sourcebook: A Resource Guide to Legislative Information in the Fifty States (Government Research Service, annual). A separate chapter for each state provides information on legislative organizations and processes, with references to available published and online sources, including state Internet sites. A "best initial contact" is provided for each state, as well as information on bill status telephone numbers, bill tracking services, and legislative documents, such as session laws and summaries of legislation. Other topics covered include sources of information on individual legislators, study committees between legislative sessions, and lobbying. The 6-to-10 pages on each state make a convenient, thorough overview of available sources. An extensive appendix, "Resource Guide to Influencing State Legislatures," provides references to general resources on state legislation.

Several sources provide background information on legislative processes. Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System (Scribner, 3 vols., 1994), edited by Joel H. Silbey, provides a broad, scholarly analysis of legislative structures and procedures, with further research leads accompanying each article. William J. Keefe and Morris S. Ogul's The American Legislative Process: Congress and the States (Prentice Hall, 9th ed., 1997) is a more nuts-and-bolts overview of such topics as the ways in which committees operate, as well as political issues such as apportionment, elections, the roles of parties and interest groups in the legislative process, and the legislature's interaction with the executive and judicial branches. Both works provide extensive coverage of Congress as well as state legislatures.

Summary background information on state legislative procedures is available in Chapter 3 of The Book of the States (Council of State Governments, biennial), with several tables summarizing such topics as provisions governing legislative sessions, bill referral procedures, veto procedures, and effective date of enacted legislation. Other tables provide detailed information on such issues as leadership selection, compensation, and staffing.

Multistate coverage of legislatures is provided by general state directories, such as State Yellow Book and State Staff Directory , discussed earlier in this chapter. In the three-part CSG State Directory, Directory I: Elective Officials includes individual legislators and Directory II: Legislative Leadership, Committees and Staff focuses on organizational structure. Another focused source is Handbook of State Legislative Leaders (State Legislative Leaders Foundation, annual), with about five pages per state containing information on terms of office and length of legislative sessions, followed by brief biographies and contact information for senate presidents, house speakers, and party leaders. WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS both provide access to a 50-state legislative directory from StateNet, a service of Information for Public Affairs, Inc. The LEGIS-DIR database on WESTLAW and the STLEG file on LEXIS-NEXIS (in the CODES, LEGIS, or STATES library) have contact information, committee membership, and legislator biographies for some states.

Older writing in this area can be found through Robert U. Goehlert and Frederick W. Musto's State Legislatures: A Bibliography (ABC-Clio, 1985). This is an unannotated listing of more than 2,500 books, articles, and dissertations since 1945. Part 1 lists general works under 25 subject areas, such as constitutional aspects and legislative structures; Part 2 lists materials for specific states. State documents, unfortunately, are generally not included.

Current Information

Information on pending bills in state legislatures is available through a number of electronic sources. Because access to up-to-date information in this area is essential, print resources are generally unsatisfactory and Internet dissemination has dramatically changed research processes.

Almost every state now has a Web site providing the text of bills and bill tracking information, similar to THOMAS on the federal level, and even those without strong Internet sites provide bill status information by telephone. State Legislative Information is an excellent source for determining what resources are available in each state, in print, by telephone, and on the Internet. The telephone numbers for obtaining bill status information in each state, available from the State Legislative Directory , can also be found on the Internet ( ).

Although many researchers have switched to electronic resources, most states continue to provide some sort of published notification of legislative developments. Some states mail out copies of all new bills to subscribers, while others only supply copies on request. A number of states publish bill digests or status summaries on a daily or weekly basis during the legislative session. Larger libraries usually receive the available documentation from their home state, unless it simply duplicates information available on demand through the Internet.

The state Internet sites can easily be found from general state homepages or through the general starting points discussed earlier in this chapter. MultiState Associates, Inc. provides a "State Legislative Presence on the Internet" page ( ) , with links to each state legislature and an indication whether the state provides free access to the full text of bills and to bill tracking information. (Comparisons such as this may serve to shame those states for which the answer is "No" in either column to improve access to this important public information.) Brief reviews provide insider information on each site, from "Lots of info, easy to search-One of the very best state sites" to "Very disappointing-It can barely be called a home page."

The best state legislative Web sites provide full-text access to bills, searchable by keyword, sponsor, or bill number. Only a few do not yet provide the text of bills online, a situation that will presumably be remedied in the near future. In some states, one can even register to receive automatic e-mail notification when a particular bill is acted upon. Exhibit 11-4 shows the introductory bill-tracking screen for one of the more thorough and informative legislative homepages, the Minnesota State Legislature's Web site ( ) . Note that it includes the full text of bills, status information, bill summaries, committee information, and background documents on the legislative process and research.

The commercial databases also provide information on pending legislation in a standard format for every state. This is one area where there is little difference between LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW because both get their data from StateNet. Each has databases, updated daily, providing the text of pending bills, monitoring the status of legislation, and combining the text and bill-tracking functions. Both services also provide multistate databases for monitoring legislation around the country on a particular topic. Table 11-3 shows the formats used for identifying these databases (LEXIS-NEXIS files are in the CODES, LEGIS, STATES, and individual state libraries).

These databases cover the current session only. Older bill tracking and texts are available, but here the systems' approaches differ somewhat. On WESTLAW, the BILLTRK-OLD, BILLTXT-OLD, and BILLS-OLD combine all previous years available and include material from Congress as well. LEXIS-NEXIS covers state legislation only, in separate files for each year back to TRCK90 and TEXT91.

The amount of information available from the Web sites and the commercial sources can vary. The 1995 Texas bill S.B. 1, which revised much of the state's Education Code, has a concise StateNet report, with just 12 bill-tracking entries and 6 versions of its text. The complete bill summary on the Texas Legislature Online site ( ) , on the other hand, includes references to 7 public hearings and more than 180 amendments passed on the floor of one chamber or the other (of nearly 400 introduced). Pity the poor researcher (or legislative staffer) who has to keep track of all these amendments, but for some purposes it may be important to know about them.

Legislative History

With the increase in electronic dissemination, information on current state legislation has blossomed. The search for documents useful in interpreting existing statutes, on the other hand, remains in a darker age. In most states, few publications like congressional committee reports or the Congressional Record exist to provide a record of legislative intent. Legislative journals generally just record actions and do not include transcripts of debates. Few states publish committee reports or hearings.

One can perform state legislative history research, although the available documentation varies dramatically from state to state. The first step in looking for legislative information on a code section is to determine when the relevant language was enacted. Historical notes following a section may provide this information. Because many state codes simply provide a list of session law citations, it may be necessary to examine the session laws to find when the pertinent material was added or amended.

In many states, the various texts of a bill are a major source of legislative history information because they show the actual changes that occurred during consideration. From these changes it may be possible to draw inferences about the intent of the legislature. If a specific activity is included in a bill's coverage in an early version, but then removed, it would be plausible to argue that the legislature decided the bill would not cover that activity. Tracing amendments and changes in a bill's language, however, is not always enlightening or easy. Following the tortuous path of a bill that was amended dozens or hundreds of times may not be worth the necessary investment of time.

Other, more accessible sources are sometimes available. If a state adopts a uniform or model act, the comments of the committee that drafted the act were presumably considered by the legislature and would be persuasive in interpreting the text. Many states have law revision commissions, legislative research commissions, or interim study committees that analyze the need for legislation and submit recommendations to the legislature. Their reports can be important documents in evaluating a statute's scope and purpose. The first place to check for information from a drafting committee or commission is the annotated code, which should (but does not always) include excerpts from comments and reports after sections they discuss. Recent reports (since the mid-1990s) may be available on legislative Web sites.

Some states have other documents that can provide useful information. New York bills sent to the governor, for example, are accompanied by files known as "bill jackets" that contain such material as memoranda from sponsors and comments from study groups, agencies, and interested organizations. These bill jackets are available on microfilm back to 1921.

Some files of this sort are not so widely available. In Virginia, "legislative draft files" prepared by staff members who draft bills are available in the Division of Legislative Services library but have not been published or microfilmed. Files for bills introduced since 1989 are open to inspection, but earlier files can be seen only with the permission of the bill's sponsor. If the sponsor has died, the files are permanently closed. There are no files before 1960, and those for 1980-81 were accidentally discarded.

In some states, legislative history research may require listening to tape recordings. Minnesota committee hearings and floor sessions were taped starting in 1973, but there are no transcripts of these tapes. In Nebraska, on the other hand, hearings and debates since 1961 have been transcribed and are available on microfilm in several libraries around the state.

With such scant official documentation, it may be necessary to examine newspapers published during the legislative session to find comments from a bill's sponsor or other information about its consideration. This is easier done if the newspaper is available online in full text, but it is possible that a few hours of staring at microfilm could yield some useful information.

Publications such as State Legislative Sourcebook and state legal research guides provide information on legislative history resources available for particular states. Internet sites from several state legislatures or libraries include guides to legislative history research. A leading example is the tutorial "Compiling the Legislative History of a New York State Law," from the New York State Library ( ). Jos R. Torres and Steve Windsor's "State Legislative Histories: A Select, Annotated Bibliography," 85 Law Libr. J. 545 (1993), lists, state by state, books and articles that describe and discuss the available legislative sources. Some items listed focus specifically on legislative research, while others are general guides to state legal materials. A few are unpublished handouts by law libraries, updated forms of which may now be available on their Web sites.

Legislative history is just one of several factors to consider in attempting to interpret an unclear statute. Section 15 of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws' Model Statutory Construction Act, enacted by several states, provides a good overview of this and other possible considerations.

If a statute is ambiguous, the court, in determining the intention of the legislature, may consider among other matters:
  1. the object sought to be attained;
  2. the circumstances under which the statute was enacted;
  3. the legislative history;
  4. the common law or former statutory provisions, including laws upon the same or similar subjects;
  5. the consequences of a particular construction;
  6. the administrative construction of the statute; and
  7. the preamble.

This model act has been superseded by a new, less succinct Uniform Statute and Rule Construction Act, which was approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1995 but has not yet been adopted in any jurisdiction.

Administrative Law

Each state, of course, has an extensive executive branch much like that in the federal government. Administrative departments and agencies promulgate regulations, issue opinions, and provide guidelines. Unfortunately, the publication of these administrative materials is not as thorough or regular as it is on the federal level. It became clear in the 1930s that the federal government needed to provide access to new regulations (Federal Register ) and that it needed to publish a compilation of the regulations in force (Code of Federal Regulations ). More than 60 years later, some state governments have yet to figure out that they should do the same.

Almost every state now has an administrative code, although few are as organized and accessible as the CFR . Some are simply compilations of material supplied by individual agencies. Some contain regulations of only a limited number of state agencies. A few do not even have general subject indexes. Even the best are generally published in loose-leaf format and require regular updating.

Just as the Bluebook mandates abbreviations for state statutes that can be different from those used in state documents and court opinions, citation forms for administrative codes can vary from source to source. The Bluebook says to cite the Code of Maryland Regulations as "Md. Regs. Code," but it is more commonly cited as "COMAR." Similarly, New York's administrative code is cited in law reviews as "N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs.," and everywhere else as "NYCRR." These different forms can be confusing, but they are just alternate ways to refer to the same publications.

In addition to codes, almost every state publishes a periodical gazette akin to the Federal Register to provide notice of new or proposed regulations. Indeed, some do little more than publish notices, with information about contacting individual agencies for the full text of new regulations. Some include other materials, such as executive orders, synopses of administrative decisions, attorney general opinions, and court rules. Most of these registers are published on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis.

Most state administrative codes and registers are available in few libraries outside the state. The American Bar Association standards for law school accreditation, which require that the library's holdings include an annotated statutory code from every state, specify only that a core collection include the administrative code of the school's home state.

Retrieving state administrative regulations may require making several telephone calls, but a variety of resources can describe what materials are available for each state. These provide a quick introduction and can save considerable time and frustration in tracking down regulations.

The National Association of Secretaries of State publishes an annual Administrative Codes and Registers: State and Federal Survey with summary information about each publication, including the address and price for subscriptions. It uses a standard one-page, fill-in-the-blank and check-the-box format for each publication. For example, the survey indicates that the Alabama Administrative Monthly provides only notices, not full text, of newly proposed and adopted rules, and that it has no index.

BNA's Directory of State Administrative Codes and Registers: A State-by-State Listing (BNA Books, 2d ed., 1995), compiled by Kamla J. King and Judith Springberg, provides further information on administrative publications, including notes on available finding aids and search tips to find information. The directory notes electronic forms of access and provides contact information for those states without codes or registers. This overview for each state is followed by a listing of its code's contents, indicating the volume, title, and subtitle for the regulations of each agency. Information is also provided on the contents and indexing of the state registers. This is a useful directory, although its latest edition is getting outdated.

Even more detail on the contents of administrative codes is provided by the William-Scott Guide to the Administrative Regulations of the States & Territories (William-Scott, 2 vols., annual). This guide contains less background and fewer tips than the BNA directory, but it provides more comprehensive tables of contents for most states and is more frequently updated.

A growing number of administrative codes and registers are available on the Internet, although fewer states have regulations online than statutes. The Internet sites vary widely, of course. Most of the codes are searchable, but some can only be browsed by title. The Georgia site allows searching of individual titles, but not of the entire code. A few of the registers are searchable as well, but many are simply posted by date to provide current notice. An easy way to keep up on available Internet sites is through the National Association of Secretaries of State's "Administrative Codes and Registers" site ( ), which provide links to secretary of state homepages as well as full-text codes and registers.

Of the commercial databases, LEXIS-NEXIS provides the most extensive access to state regulations, with administrative codes from 34 states and registers from 18 states in its CODES and STATES libraries. For administrative codes, the file name is the two-letter postal code followed by ADMN (e.g. TXADMN), and for registers, the state abbreviation is followed by RGST (TXRGST). WESTLAW has codes from 26 states (TX-ADC) and registers from just 3 states (TX-ADR). LEXIS-NEXIS has a file combining all codes and registers (ALLADM), and WESTLAW has a combined database of all available state administrative codes (ADC-ALL).

Another commercial service, LOIS (Law Office Information Systems) ( ) , has regulations for 13 states, regularly updated with material from new issues of the register. LOIS provides exclusive access to an administrative code for its home state of Arkansas, with no counterpart in print.

Almost every state now has a CD-ROM containing its administrative code, usually in conjunction with other materials, such as statutes and court opinions. Two excellent guides to available sources are the "State Legal Publications and Information Sources" chapter of Kendall F. Svengalis's Legal Information Buyer's Guide and Reference Manual (Rhode Island LawPress, annual) and Directory of Law-Related CD-ROMs (Infosources Publishing, annual), indexed under "Regulations-[state]."

Table 11-4 indicates the codes and registers for each state, available in print, through LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW, and on the Internet. Most of the electronic databases are updated at the same pace as the print versions. Some of the Internet sites provide only partial coverage to date, but most of these are gradually expanding. Publishers are indicated only for commercial publications, and CD-ROMs are included only for Arkansas and New Mexico, which have no printed administrative codes. Some of the registers have changed names or frequency of publication, but the earliest date and current frequency are indicated.

Even if state regulations as a whole are not available electronically, Web sites for numerous state government agencies provide access to their regulations. Idaho, for example, has a convenient page ( ) with links to rules by agency, and the Wyoming secretary of state provides an indexed and searchable database ( ).

In addition, regulations from all 50 states in a few specialized areas are available through the commercial databases. Comprehensive coverage is available for environmental, health, and safety regulations (ENFLEX-AL for Alabama and ENFLEX-STATE for all states on WESTLAW; ENVIRN library, ALEVRG file for Alabama and STEVRG for all states on LEXIS-NEXIS), insurance regulations (ALIN-ADC and MIN-ADC on WESTLAW; INSURE library, ALREGS and STREGS files on LEXIS-NEXIS), and tax regulations (CCHTAX library, ALREG and CCHSTR files on LEXIS-NEXIS).

Finally, both LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW provide access to StateNet's regulation tracking database. StateNet provides brief summaries of pending regulatory actions, with names and contact information for agency personnel, administrative code citations, proposal dates, comment deadlines, and times and places of public hearings. Entries include subject indexing to facilitate keyword searching. One can search by individual state (STATES / WYRGTR on LEXIS-NEXIS, or WY-REGTRK on WESTLAW) or all 50 states (STRGTR or ST-REGTRK).

Other Agency Materials

Codified and published regulations are not the only documentation from state administrative agencies. Some materials remain unpublished or available only in hard-to-find official compilations. The Virginia Department of Social Services notes in the introduction to its section of the Virginia Administrative Code that some of its regulations are available at its office and provides an address. The department also notes, "In addition to the regulations listed below, the department maintains loose-leaf financial assistance, social services, and administrative manuals of standards, policies and procedures for local departments of social services and public welfare, and issues frequent policy statements" (22 Va. Admin. Code 40). Much of this additional material may be available only upon request, by telephone or in person. Some agency manuals may require the filing of a state Freedom of Information Act request.

An increasing amount of state agency regulations, policies, and other information is available on the Internet. State tax administrators have found, for instance, that the Web provides an inexpensive and convenient way to dispense literature; links to tax forms from almost every state are available from the Federation of Tax Administrators ( ). Collections of links to state agency Web sites include the Piper Resources, Washburn, and Emory sites discussed earlier in this chapter.


Many state administrative agencies in areas such as banking, insurance, public utilities, taxation, and workers' compensation issue decisions like their federal counterparts. Some of these are published in official series, and some are included in commercial publications such as Public Utilities Reports (Public Utilities Reports, Inc., 1915-date). LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW include state agency decisions in the areas of environmental law, public utilities, securities, taxation, and workers' compensation, with databases for individual states and for all available states. Keep in mind that not all states are represented in these online collections.

Some administrative decisions are also available on the Internet. The Hawaii State Bar Association, for example, provides access to material from Hawaii's Civil Rights Commission, Corporation Counsel, Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, and other agencies ( ).

Executive Orders

Many, but not all, governors have the power to issue executive orders. In most instances, these orders are published in the state registers, but in a few states they may only be available as individual documents. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) guides to the registers discussed earlier indicate whether they include executive orders, and table 2-5 in The Book of the States summarizes the authorization (constitutional, statutory, or implied), scope, and procedures for these orders. Several governors include the text of executive orders on their Web sites, which can be accessed through the state government homepage or by links from the National Governors Association ( ).

Attorney General Opinions

State attorneys general operate in a wide range of areas, such as law enforcement and consumer protection, as outlined in State Attorneys General: Powers andResponsibilities (BNA, 1990), edited by Lynne M. Ross. One important service attorneys general provide is the interpretation of state law through advisory opinions issued to state agencies or legislators. Although these opinions are not legally binding, they are given considerable weight by courts confronted with related issues. A few of the state editions of Shepard's Citations cover attorney general opinion citations to code provisions, and most (but not all) annotated codes include references to relevant attorney general opinions. Maine Revised Statutes Annotated , for example, indicates that the Maine attorney general issued an important opinion on the effect of can size and weight on the application of the state's sardine tax (1963-64 Me. Atty. Gen. Rep. 152).

Attorney general opinions appear in some state registers, and they are usually published in annual or biennial volumes. These volumes generally are indexed, but it may be necessary to check several as the indexes rarely cumulate. A valuable source for finding older attorney general opinions is section 3 of Pimsleur's Checklists of Basic American Legal Publications , which lists published volumes and provides a historical introduction for each state. Information on sources for current opinions is included as an appendix to BNA's Directory of State Administrative Codes and Registers: A State-by-State Listing (BNA Books, 2d ed., 1995).

Almost all attorneys general have Web sites, which can be found through links at the National Association of Attorneys General site ( ) . Not all include the text of opinions, however, and more than half of those that do simply list them chronologically with brief summaries. An increasing number of sites, however, allow searching either by keyword or through a subject index. Florida and Texas have the most thorough sites; both go back to 1977 and are searchable. Table 11-5 lists the sites with opinions, and the earliest dates covered.

LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW provide more comprehensive access to attorney general opinions, with coverage in both systems beginning in 1977 for most states. There are a few exceptions. LEXIS-NEXIS, for example, doesn't include Maine opinions before 1984, while Mississippi goes back to 1951 and New Mexico all the way to statehood in 1912. Both systems have South Carolina opinions back to 1959. In LEXIS-NEXIS, these are in the file SCAG in either the individual state library or STATES, and in WESTLAW the database is SC-AG. Comprehensive databases for all 50 states are AG on WESTLAW, and ALLAG on LEXIS-NEXIS. On the Internet, the commercial site LOIS has attorney general opinions for six states. In at least one instance (Oklahoma), LOIS coverage exceeds LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW by several years.

Industry Standards

Many state (and local) agencies incorporate industry standards and codes by reference into their regulations and policies. Rules such as the Uniform Building Code, from the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), or the National Fire Prevention Code, from the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA), may have the force of law even if they are not published by a government agency. These codes are available in some libraries, and the agencies responsible for their enforcement should have copies, but otherwise they can be hard to find. Some are available on the Internet, although most sites for organizations promulgating standards simply provide information on purchasing copies. Neither BOCA, ( ), nor ICBO (http://www.icbo. org/ ) , provides full text online. One of the most comprehensive collections of Web sites of organizations producing standards and codes, with more than 120 links, is available from Michael D. Leshner, P.E. & Associates, ( htm ). Tips on other, pre-Internet ways to obtain standards are provided in the column "Questions and Answers," 84 Law Libr. J. 409 (1992).

Counties and Cities

Local laws govern a wide range of important issues, from day-to-day matters such as parking regulations and animal control to long-range concerns such as zoning and subdivision. Charters are the basic laws creating the structure of local government, in the same way that constitutions establish the powers of national and state governments; and ordinances are local enactments governing specific issues. Local laws are based on power delegated by the state legislature to adopt rules governing matters of local concern.

Local charters and ordinances can be among the most difficult primary legal sources to obtain. Many are published and accessible at libraries within the jurisdiction, but few of these collections are available beyond the city or county's borders. The leading publisher is Municipal Code Corporation, in Tallahassee, Florida, which has published codes for more than 2,500 cities and counties in 48 states. These are published in loose-leaf format for supplementation, but the updating schedule varies from locality to locality. Several other publishers have smaller, more regional clienteles.

A growing number of municipal codes are available on the Internet. The Seattle Public Library provides one of the most extensive sets of links to online municipal codes ( ) . Its collection continues to grow, covering hundreds of cities and counties in more than 40 states. A number of large cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and (of course) Seattle are included. Most states are represented only by a few localities, but as more local governments improve their Web sites, access to local codes will undoubtedly increase.

The Municipal Code Corporation provides free Internet access to part of its stable of city ordinances ( ). More than 300 cities and counties are represented here as Folio infobases, which can be searched by keyword or viewed through tables of contents. More than half of these localities are in Florida, and some are rather small. The town of Medley, near Miami, has fewer than 700 inhabitants, and the city of Atlantis is not much bigger. But the Municipal Code Corporation site also covers five of the country's 15 largest cities (Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Antonio, San Jose), as well as several other major cities such as Atlanta, Denver, and Miami.

Other sites within each state may provide further access. The Minnesota State Law Library, for example, has links to a growing number of local codes in its Minnesota Legal Resources page ( ).

Even if cities have not put their ordinances on the Web, most have sites providing background information on local government in addition to business, culture, and tourism. Several guides to local Web sites are also available. One of the most systematic and convenient is the Harden Political InfoSystem ( http://www. com/hpi/us50/index.html ). For counties ( ) and cities and towns ( ), HPI provides a standardized form with basic information, such as addresses, census data, and elected officials, and includes links to homepages, if available. Either maps or lists can be used to find localities, and retrieval can be limited to localities with linked homepages.

The commercial databases offer few local law sources. Both LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW include the New York City Charter and Code, but otherwise coverage is limited. LEXIS-NEXIS has Albuquerque and Pittsburgh, while WESTLAW has Spokane-updated as of 1994. The options on CD-ROM are just as limited, with only a few of the largest cities represented by products such as New York City Charter, Code and Rules on LawDesk (West Group, quarterly) and The Philadelphia Code and the Philadelphia Charter (LocalLaw Publications, annual).

Whether published or online, sets of ordinances are rarely annotated with court decisions. Access to these decisions used to be available in Shepard's Citations , but for most states this feature has not been updated since about 1993Ñand has been omitted from newly recompiled volumes. (Shepard's California Citations is the exception, with ordinances still listed by jurisdiction and indexed by subject.) One way to find cases on the scope and application of local laws is through Ordinance Law Annotations (West Group [originally Shepard's], 15 vols., 1969-date, with annual supplements), a case digest focusing on issues of concern to cities and counties, with topics such as "Beauty Operators," "Florists," "Junk," and "Taxicabs." The annotations are by subject, but a table in Volumes 6A and 6B lists cases by state and locality.

Contact information for local governments throughout the country is available in several directories, published by the providers of information for federal and state governments as well. These include Municipal Staff Directory (CQ Staff Directories, semiannual), covering 3,000 cities with populations more than 10,000; Municipal Yellow Book (Leadership Directories, semiannual), covering both city and county governments; and Carroll's Municipal Directory and Carroll's County Directory (Carroll Publishing Co., both semiannual), covering nearly 8,000 cities and more than 3,000 counties, respectively. Each of these directories lists more than 30,000 local officials and provides other information, such as demographic data, finances, Web site addresses, and alphabetical name indexes. The Municipal Staff Directory includes biographical information on more than 1,000 mayors and city executives. The two Carroll directories are combined in an annual hardcover Carroll's Municipal/County Directory , and some of their information is available on the Internet (http://www/ )or ( html ).

Two other sources for research on local law bear mentioning. Municipal Year Book (International City Management Association, annual) discusses trends in local government and features concise city and county directories, with names of major officials and a main telephone number. A "Sources of Information" bibliography provides research leads under several subject headings. Index to Current Urban Documents (Greenwood Press, quarterly) covers annual reports, management plans, and other publications of cities, counties, and regional organizations. It is indexed by locality (alphabetically, not by state) and subject, and is accompanied by a microfiche collection of materials listed.