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Wisconsin Legislative History: Introduction

Process for Researching and Compiling a Wisconsin Legislative History

This guide explains the legislative history research process for Wisconsin and identifies resources for finding documentation generated during the legislative process.


Legislative History Background and Resources


Similar to the Federal Government [1], the Wisconsin Legislature is divided into two chambers – a senate and an assembly.  Each chamber is comprised of elected officials from throughout the state.  Among other duties, legislators introduce and debate bills with the intent of developing new laws and amending existing laws.

The process of creating or amending a law begins with the introduction of a bill into either chamber of the legislature.  Bills are ushered through the chambers and committees with the help of the Legislative Reference Bureau.  The LRB provides assistance by authoring, reviewing and revising documents that are instrumental in the development and analysis of bills as they proceed through the legislature.

This guide is intended to provide a background to the process of compiling Wisconsin legislative histories.  It also discusses drafting records,other materials produced by the Legislative Reference Bureau, and provides other resources that also discuss legislative history.


Compiling a Legislative History


The process of compiling a Wisconsin legislative history includes looking at the Statutes, History notes within the statutes, Session Laws, Drafting Records, and potentially other material.[2]


Occasionally, a researcher may look for background of legislation that has not been enacted.  In this case the process will include searching through the Bulletins of Proceedings to find bills or resolutions, as well as the drafting records.


Additionally, a researcher may find statutes that have their origin or amendments in the Judicial Council or Legislative Council. References to Judicial Council Notes will have citations to Wisconsin Reports.    Legislative Council notes are incorporated into the acts or chapters.

Learn more at the Compiling a Legislative History Detailed page of this guide.

Drafting Records


Drafting records are documents that 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, or individual legislators.

Learn more at the Drafting Records page of this guide.

LRB Documentation


In addition to drafting records, the Legislative Reference Bureau produces other documents that can help one better understand issues that are or have been before the legislature, including some detail of budget issues, summaries of constitutional issues, informational memoranda and bulletins, legislative briefs and bulletins, as well as bibliographies and other information.

Learn more at the LRB Materials page of this guide.

Legislation Not Enacted


Occasionally, as part of completing research, one might be looking for legislation of a bill that was not enacted.  This process will include identifying the chamber and bill number, as well as finding the corresponding drafting records.

Learn more at the Legislation Not Enacted page of this guide.

Judicial and Legislative Council Notes


Occasionally, one may be searching for the background of statutes that have been established or amended as a result of Supreme Court order.  This information will be indicated in a Judicial Council Note.  You can learn more about this, as well as Legislative Council Notes on the Judicial and Legislative Council Notes page of this guide.

Budget Bills‚Äč

Due to length and complexity, compiling a legislative history for budget bills can be difficult.  While the LRB does produce indexes to the budget bills from 1999 to current, which can be helpful, it is advisable to speak with a reference librarian or contact LRB directly when working with a budget bill.
That said, this guide attempts to provide you with a walkthrough of the process to researching a budget bill.
Learn more at the Budget Bills page of this guide.

Additional Resources


Finally, it may be desirable to search for additional areas of information in an attempt to identify legislative intent as related to any particular bill.  In addition to searching through drafting records, it may be worthwhile to check other sources such as the state newspaper (Wisconsin State Journal), or contact the legislators who were involved in the development of the bill or act in question.  Finally, one can also contact the LRB directly in attempt to gather more information.


[1] A Federal Legislative History Guide is available on the Law Library’s Research Guides Page.
[2] It may be helpful to view the Wisconsin Legislature's guide on How a Bill Becomes a Law.


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This Guide was created by:

Jim Mumm

Marquette University

Eckstein Law Library