25 October 2012

Legislative History: Four Steps to Success

by Judy Hale Reed, Staff Writer
When I saw how excited Duquesne Law 2L Daniel Conlon was, in the law library of all places, I had to find out why.

When Daniel laid out his recent research victory, accomplished with initial guidance from Associate Library Director Dittakavi Rao, my interest was piqued.  Daniel wanted to get the legislative intent behind a Pennsylvania statute for the history section of his Duquesne Business Journal case note, which is on a case about notice in a mortgage foreclosure. 

“This [process] is a little gem,” Daniel said.  He had seen legislative intent used in judge’s opinions and wondered where to find it.  “We are walking through history to read how laws evolved and how pieces of legislation were born.”  This was not the first time Daniel had experienced an up-close view of legislative history.  He spent his first year after undergrad as a staff assistant on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Daniel’s secret path through the stacks involved four steps through four shelves on the first floor of the Duquesne Law Library.  He first looked up the statute cited in the case.  The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated (Purdon’s Pa. C.S.A.) contains the codified law organized by chapter and statute number.  Daniel went straight to the end of the Housing Agency Law entry to find the Public Law year and number.  “This is where the game started,” Daniel said. 
Moving on to step two, he carried the first book with him and walked one shelf over to the Public Laws of Pennsylvania books.  Daniel pulled down the edition for the relevant year and turned to the page number, which is also the number of the public law.  The public law contained an addition, the Housing Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP).  This emergency law passed in 1983 when Pittsburgh was leading the region into the Rust Belt era. It regulated notice and other lender requirements before foreclosing on homeowners.  We could see that the law had been amended five times, most recently in 2008—another big recession year.

The third step involved an older-looking book, the History of House Bills, also organized by year and then by bill number.  “This is like the docket of the case,” Daniel explained, “as if it were in the blender.”  It was in
courier font and listed dates of actions on the bill. 
We picked a date to find in the Legislative Journal, which is also organized by date.  This was step four.  Daniel explained that this was the daily written record of the “discussion and debate of the policies behind our laws.”  The blender analogy began to fit for research as well, because finding the substantive debate involved searching for the bill number within a date for different dates. This was a time intensive back-and-forth between the House Bills volume and the Journal volume, but Daniel found the debate he sought and was able to draft a more robust and interesting case note.

A Review of the Four Steps to Research Legislative History:
1. Look up a statute in Purdon’s Pa. C.S.A. to find the Public Law number (P.L.)
2. In the Laws of Pennsylvania, by year, find the year of the Public Law.  The Public Law number itself is the page number in its respective volume; this will give the bill number for the Pennsylvania House or Senate
3. The History of House Bills, or the History of Senate Bills, organized by year and then bill number.  Using the bill number, look up the debate.
4. Using the House or Senate bill number, look up the dates on which the bill was debated in the Legislative Journal, which is also organized by date.  On a specific date, the bills were not necessarily debated in numerical order, so look through the record for a given date to find the bill and then read to determine if the discussion went to the substantive policy or was procedural.

Judy Hale Reed is a second year student at Duquesne. She had a pre-law career in international human rights focused on gender equality and anti-trafficking in persons, speaks Romanian, and sometimes bikes to school.