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Wisconsin Legislative History: Compiling a Legislative History Detailed

Process for Researching and Compiling a Wisconsin Legislative History

Compiling a Legislative History

Compiling a legislative history can involve consulting several publications, including: The Wisconsin Statutes, West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated, Wisconsin Session Laws (also known as Laws of Wisconsin), Drafting Records, and other sources.


  1. The process of compiling a legislative history usually begins with identifying the act number and year of the legislation that is at issue (including specific words or phrases) by searching the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations (commonly called Wisconsin Statutes) or West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated.  You may already know the statute that you are researching, but you will need to know the history (acts or chapters) that led to the development of the specific language at issue.  (Note that prior to 1983 acts were referred to as chapters, and so are designated with the letter "c".  From 1983 to current the term act is used, and is designated with the letter "a".)  The Wisconsin Statutes history lines go back to 1971, therefore researchers using the official statutes will also need to consult Wisconsin Annotations 1970 to obtain a complete history.  For a more thorough search, it is suggested that researchers also consult West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated, as this offers a complete history line dating back to 1848.
  1. Using the act or chapter number from the history line, look up the act or chapter in the appropriate year of Wisconsin Session Laws, the chronological compilation of acts dating back to 1848 (also known as Laws of Wisconsin).  (Use the information on the spine of the volume to find the correct volume containing the year and act.)  If amending an existing law, the act will include the preceding language and the language of the amendments.  Amendments are often displayed in a "marked-up" version with strike-through font indicating deletions and underlines indicating additions.  The act may also contain important language, such as a preamble that states the legislature's intent, not contained in Wisconsin Statutes or West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated.
  1. While reading the act in the Laws of Wisconsin, note the bill number for the act located above the act number.  The bill number can be used to track the progress of the bill in either the Assembly Journal or Senate Journal for that legislative session.  In the above example, the bill number is 2005 Assembly Bill 1073 (or 2005 AB 1073).  In addition, take note of the act number, as drafting records for statutes are filed according to the act.  In this example the act number is 2005 Wisconsin Act 183.  It is also helpful to write down the section of the statutes being searched, as an individual act or chapter may impact many different statute sections.
  2. The Wisconsin Statutes and the West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated may also include references to Judicial Council or Legislative Council Notes.  In some cases the Note will be printed, and in some cases a reference will be given.  It is adviseable, when studying Judicial or Legislative Council Notes to look at both Wisconsin Statutes and West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated.  Judicial Council Notes may include an Order Number.  For Notes after 1995, the Rule Order Number (also referred to as the Rule Petition Number) can be searched on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Website.  For Judicial Council Notes prior to 1995 it will be necessary to search in the paper Wisconsin Reports.
  3. If the act originated from the Legislative Council, there may be other information available from the Council, including Council Reports to the Legislature, Discussion Papers, Committees' Reports to the Council, Staff Briefs and Memoranda for various committees, and Summaries of Proceedings of committee hearings, including summaries of testimony presented.  The Law Library binds this material into multi-volume sets called Wisconsin Legislative Council Publications for each session.  To see if the law under review was a product of the Legislative Council, check the annotations in both Wisconsin Statutes and West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated or the Bulletin of Proceedings for the given legislative session.
  4. Review the Drafting Records of the act.  The evolution of the bill through various proposals may provide an insight into the legislature's intent.
  5. It may be necessary to review several acts that amended a statute in order to track the changes that produced the language in question.  To be thorough, it may be necessary to review bills from previous legislatures, as well as the drafting documents related to those bills.  (For more on reviewing bills from previous legislatures, see the section on Legislation Not Enacted.)
  6. Finally, additional information may be gleaned from the procedural history of the act or bill.  Procedural histories can be found by using the subject index in the Bulletin of Proceedings of the Wisconsin Legislature for the session that produced the act.  The Bulletin will refer to specific pages detailing the legislative process in either the Assembly Journal or Senate Journal for the session.  Alternatively, use the bill number connected to the act to find the legislative process, since the bills are listed in numerical order in the Journals.

Budget Bills


Compiling a legislative history for lengthy and detailed budget bills can be difficult.  While the LRB does produce indexes to the budget bills from 1999 to current, which can be helpful in identifying sections of the bill for various subjects, the sheer length and complexity of budget bills can make the process of compiling a legislative history rather daunting.  Therefore, it is advisable to speak with a reference librarian or contact LRB directly when working with a budget bill.
As part of providing an understanding of legislative history in Wisconsin, the Legislative Reference Bureau created the document, Wisconsin Briefs from the Legislative Reference Bureau, Brief 06-10 and Brief 13-8, both titled Researching Legislative History in Wisconsin.  These briefs give a good background of budget bills beginning at Step 6, on page 21 or 23 respectively.
Learn more at the Budget Bills page of this guide.

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Resources Discussed on This Page

Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations (Official)

Call Number: KFW2430 .A22

Also available online at the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau web site

Madison, Wis. : Revisor of Statutes Bureau, [1995?-


Published biannually, the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations, better known as the Wisconsin Statutes, is located in the Ready Reference area of the Eckstein Law Library, on the first floor.  Copies are also available in other areas of the first floor as well as on the other floors of the law library. (Note, statutes can also be searched in other sources, including WestlawLexisLexisNexis Academic, Loislaw, and Fastcase.)


Wisconsin Annotations

Call Number:  KFW2430 .A412 1970


The history notes in the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations go back to 1971.  In order to develop complete research, it is important to check the Wisconsin Annotations for prior chapters that would have created or updated the statute in question.  As an alternative, one can research in the West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated for complete history notes.  This resource is located in the Ready Reference area of the law library.


West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated (Unoffocial)

Call Number: KFW2430 .A43

Also available on Westlaw

St. Paul, Minn. : West Pub. Co., c1957-


West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated is an updated service that provides the language of the statutes, as well as complete history notes and further annotations.  A copy is available in the Ready Reference area of the Eckstein Law Library, on the first floor.  Copies are also available in the first floor stacks, and also on the third floor of the law library.


Wisconsin Session Laws

Call Number: KFW2425.2 .L39

Also available online via Hein Online

Madison, Wis. : R.A. Bird [etc.], 1848-


Wisconsin Session Laws, (also known as Laws of WisconsinActsWisconsin ActsWisconsin State Session Laws or Session Laws of Wisconsin) provide the Acts or Chapters (1983 and earlier) of the legislature.  Information from this source will help in establishing the progression of the language as statutes are created and amended.  Two copies are available on the first floor of the Eckstein Law Library.  A copy is also available on the third floor of the law library.


Assembly and Senate Journals

Call Number: KFW 2406


The Assembly Journals and Senate Journals includes an Index to Senate and Assembly Bills, Joint Resolutions, Resolutions and Petitions, the text of Bills and Joint Resolutions, and the Bulletin of Proceedings or the Journal of Proceedings. This material is located on the first floor of the Eckstein Law Library.

Wisconsin Legislative Council Materials

Call Number: KFW2420 .W55

The Wisconsin Legislative Council Materials include: Minutes and reports of committees; Digest of Council bills in session; Information memorandums; Information bulletins; Briefs to the legislature; Summary of proceedings; Research bulletins staff briefs; Annual report to the legislature; Digest of Council bills etc.  This material is located on the first floor of the Eckstein Law Library.


Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau Publications

Call Number: KF2420 .W57

The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Materials include: Budget Briefs, Legislative Briefs, Wisconsin Briefs, Informational Bulletins and Research Bulletins.  This material is located on the first floor of the Eckstein Law Library.


Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau publications are available online and include:

  • Executive Budget Publications, including:
    Budget Briefs and 
    Budget Index
  • Other special series and publications


Wisconsin Legislative Documents

also available online at


The Wisconsin Legislative Documents include: links to Current Statutes, Constitution, Acts, Bulletin of Proceedings Indices, Administrative Code, Administrative Register, and an Archives.


In addition to the above, the Legislative Documents site also links to an archives that includes:

  • Wisconsin Constitution (beginning with 1989-90)
  • Wisconsin Statutes (beginning with 1941-42)
  • Statutes Index (HTML) (beginning with 1989-90)
  • Acts (Chapters) (beginning with 1848)
  • Territory Acts (1836-1848)
  • Joint Resolutions (1845-1933/34)

Drafting Records

Call Number: KFW2821.5 .B5 W57

Marquette Eckstein Law Library Has:

1927-1997 available on microfiche (First Floor, KFW 2821.5.B5 W57)

1999 through 2002 are available on CD ROM (First Floor, KFW 2821.5.B5 W57)

2003-2006 are available on DVD (First Floor, KFW 2821.5.B5 W57)


The Wisconsin State Legislature Has:

1999 through current available from the State Legislature Web Site


Drafting records are produced during the development of legislation.  All of the documents that are generated during the bill drafting process are considered to be drafting records.  As such, they can be helpful when trying to glean the intent of the collective legislature.

Basic Steps for Compiling a Legislative History

Basic Steps for Compiling a Legislative History


  1. Identify the Statute Section and locate the language or word for which the legislative history is being sought.
  2. Using the Wisconsin Statutes*, or West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated, Identify the Act or Chapter number(s) from the History line.  (*note: the History line only goes back to 1971 in the Wisconsin Statutes.  If using this source it is also advisable to consult the Wisconsin Annotations.)
  3. Look up the Act(s) or Chapter(s) in the Wisconsin Session Laws to identify original language and/or language of amendments.
  4. Review the language of the bill and any amendments in the order in which they were introduced.
  5. Review the Drafting Records:


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This Guide was created by:

Jim Mumm

Marquette University

Eckstein Law Library