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Legislative History in Virginia


Legislative history encompasses the tracking of the history of a bill and the research to analyze the intent of legislators when they submitted, discussed, passed, or rejected a bill. As a result documents such as legislative or executive reports and floor debates preceding the enactment of a bill into law are important to determine legislative intent. Such history becomes crucial when the meaning of a law/statute is challenged in court and clarification is required.

In Virginia, little is available to determine legislative intent compared to other states or to the congressional level. There are no official transcripts of the House and Senate debates or the proceedings of the standing committees.

Documents published by the General Assembly provide the history of bills and the approved/rejected amendments, the actions and votes of the committees, the vote of each house, and the final approved edition of each bill that becomes law. Since 1994, this material is available on the Legislative Information System (LIS) at lis.virginia.gov/ .

Bills that are enacted into law each legislative session become Chapters and constitute the Acts of Assembly for every given year. Each chapter in the Acts of Assembly refers to the Senate or House bill that created it. This information is crucial for further research with the Journals and Calendars.

The Acts of Assembly are codified every year into the Code of Virginia. Every section of the Code of Virginia makes reference to the Chapter or Chapters and year of enactment of that particular law. Look for the information in parenthesis at the end of each section, which states the Chapters that created or amended it. (Code 1950, § 58-27.2; 1970, c. 762; 1973, c.140; 1978, c.654; 1984, c.675)

The reference "Code 1950, § 58-27.2" means that part of the section predates the current Code of Virginia, and it was incorporated in the 1950 version.

Resources at the Library of Virginia

House and Senate Bills, Joint Resolutions, Resolutions.
The various versions of the bills delineate the changes in text and consequently in intent from the time a bill was introduced until it became law. A bill always mentions the section of the code that it will amend. The regular print of the text indicates existing legislation. Text in italics indicates proposal for a new law or amendment to the current law, and text with a line over it "is stricken", signifying deletion. Some resolutions propose studies for impending legislation and indicate some intent.

House and Senate Calendars.
The Calendars contain the business of the day for each house. They are published daily when the General Assembly is in session. In the Calendars one can find the following:

  • The bills and resolutions that are discussed each day

  • The status of reported bills

  • The reported bills from committees and the committees’ votes

  • The committees’ and floor line amendments, crucial for determining intent

  • Amendments passed. For amendments passed in the house of origin see the second reading of the bill, amendments passed by the opposite house are found on third reading of the bill

  • The recommendations or veto justifications of the governor

House and Senate Journals.
The Journals incorporate information from the Calendars (which are discarded when the Journals are printed), the final vote, and the minutes of each daily session.

House and Senate Documents.
Contain reports and recommendations by various agencies, committees, and commissions on topics of pending legislation.

Finding Aids

Final Cumulative Index to Bills, Resolutions, Joint Resolutions, and Documents. This index is an important document containing, in addition to the index:

  • A brief

  • bill history report

  • Report of bills sponsored by each legislator

  • Studies and reports to be made to the General Assembly

  • Mandates for each session’s documents

  • A list of the Acts of Assembly arranged by Chapter number

Session Summary.
The bills are organized by subject, according to the titles of the Code of Virginia. First are listed the bills that passed, followed by the bills that failed, with a detailed summary.
The numbers of other identical House or Senate bills are mentioned.

Digest of the Acts of the General Assembly.
A listing of the Acts, by Code section, with a summary of the amended sections.

For House and Senate Documents check:

  • A Cumulative Index to the Numbered Documents of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1918-1976.

  • Topical Studies by the General Assembly of Virginia during the Period... (coverage: 1970- )

The House and Senate Documents database http://leg2.state.va.us/dls/h&sdocs.nsf/Published by Year?OpenForm&StartKey=2004&ExpandView provides coverage for 1897-present.


Newspapers always report on the General Assembly. Occasionally they have long articles on specific bills. Check the Library’s online catalog for specific newspaper titles. The Library has the Richmond Times Dispatch online, 1985-present. The database searchable by keyword.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch maintains a special file of articles during each session of the General Assembly. The Washington Post maintains a similar page during the session.

Opinions of the Attorney General

Opinions of the Attorney General on a given topic may be helpful to determine intent. The Opinions of the Attorney General are available online at http://www.oag.state.va.us/, 1996-present. Search for "Official Opinions."

Law Journals

Law review articles often present analysis and discuss intent of specific laws.
Virginia has the following legal periodicals, which are indexed in the Index to Legal Periodicals:

Archival Material

  • Enrolled bills for the years 1776- . These original documents are signed by the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and, starting in 1870, by the Governor

  • Executive Papers of the Governors (1776- ). The official correspondence of the governors of the commonwealth.

  • House of Delegates session recordings from 1982-  are available for viewing in the Library of Virginia's Archives Reading Room. Call ahead to confirm holdings. The library may not have recordings for recent years.

Additional Resources

The Legislative Draft files.

All bills have a Legislative Draft file created by the Division of Legislative Services. The files contain the bill request, background information justifying the proposal of the bill, copies with the drafting changes, and any correspondence between the drafting attorney and the legislator. These files are in the custody of the Legislative Reference Center (804/786-3591) of the Division of Legislative Services at the General Assembly Building. To view bills that have passed after 1989, the files are available for public viewing at the Legislative Reference Center. For bills that did not pass and/or bills prior to 1989, permission from the chief patron of each bill is required. Additional information on the Legislative Draft files is available from Legislative Reference Center 804-786-3591 or http://dls.virginia.gov/lrc.htm?OpenDocument.

Video recordings

The House and Senate floor sessions are video recorded. Some of the tapes are available for viewing or purchase through the Clerk's office of each house. Contact the House or Senate Clerk's office for additional information.

House Clerk’s Office 804-698-1530
Senate Clerk’s Office 804-698-7400

The House Clerk's office has a complete run of the tapes since video recording began in 1982. The Senate Clerk's office keeps the tapes for six months after the reconvened session. After this period, the tapes are no longer available.

House of Delegates session recordings from 1982-  are available for viewing in the Library of Virginia's Archives Reading Room. Call ahead to confirm holdings. The library may not have recordings for recent years.

Fiscal Impact Statement

Occasionally bills require a Fiscal Impact Statement. These statements are usually prepared by the Department of Planning and Budget and contain anticipated costs of the proposed legislation.
They are available through the Legislative Reference Center (804/786-3591) or the House or Senate Clerk’s Office.

How to Obtain Copies

Copies of bills, calendars, and the Final Cumulative Index to Bills, Resolutions,Joint Resolutions, and Documents for the current session are available at the Bill room in the Capitol building free of charge on request.
The Roll Call (the floor vote on each bill) and the final edition of each bill or enrolled copy are available from Division of Legislative Services at the General Assembly free of charge on request.

Legislative Bill Room 804-786-6984
Division of Legislative Services 804-786-3591
Online: Legislative Information System (LIS) at lis.virginia.gov/  (1994-present)