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Washington Legislative History

Outlines basic procedures for conducting legislative history research in Washington state.

Basic Procedure

  1. Begin your research by reviewing the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) or Revised Code of Washington Annotated (RCWA) section containing your statute. At the end of each code section, there is a historical source note listing each of the session laws incorporated in the current text of that section. The list may range from a single session law, to a list of several session laws. The references to session laws are abbreviated by year and chapter number as published in the Session Laws of the State of Washington, also called the Laws of Washington (KFW25.A22 - Kelley Reading Room).

  2. Next, go to the Laws of Washington and look up each of the session laws listed in the RCW. In doing so, compare older versions of the law with changes that have been made to the text. Also, pay attention to how each section appears in context. When a new law is codified, its various sections may be printed in separate parts of the code, so the codified version will not always reflect the overall context of the law as it was considered by the legislature. Each session law includes a bill number which identifies the final version of the bill.

  3. Using the bill number and year of the session law, proceed to the House Journal (KFW18.W3 - Kelley Reading Room) and Senate Journal (KFW18.W32 - Kelley Reading Room) for a detailed account of the course of the bill through the legislative process. The Journals contain tables listing every page number on which a bill is mentioned. Each Journal includes tables for both House and Senate bills, and every bill must be traced through both House and Senate volumes. The tables are located just before the index in the concluding volume for the session.

    The most interesting material in the Journals will appear in the form of floor remarks, or "points of inquiry." The amount and quality of this material included in the Journals has been much improved in recent years. Amendments to bills and other potentially helpful material are also included. However, most references consist of inclusions of the bill in long lists of items introduced on a particular day, transmittal to the governor for approval, and so on. In many cases, especially in older volumes, no useful information will be found.

  4. Next check the subject indexes in the Journals to locate other bills introduced during that legislative session on similar topics. Relevant floor remarks or other material may be found in relation to these items, whether or not they were passed. The fact that one bill was passed, while another with conflicting provisions was not, may also be significant.

  5. Finally, if the Senate Journal or House Journal refers to materials not contained in the Journals (for example, a committee report) the best step is to call the Washington State Archives (360-586-1492) for the material. Make sure you have year and bill number handy.

You should also compare all printed versions of each relevant bill, if possible. Bills are no longer held in the Chastek Library, but they can be obtained through interlibrary loan from the Washington State Law Library, the Washington State Library, or (for current bills) the Bill Room at the Washington State Legislature. Current bills, and bills dating back to 1991, can also be located online at the Washington State Legislature “Bill Information” webpage:

For legislative documents dating back to 1985, use Legislative Search webpage:

Chastek Library, Gonzaga University School of Law | 721 N. Cincinnati St. Spokane, WA 99220-3528 | 509.313.3758