Skip to Main Content

Law Library

Illinois Legislative History Research

Locating Illinois Legislative History Documents

Attorneys and courts use  legislative history documents  to ascertain the meaning of a statute. Legislative history documents  consist of the debates, committee reports and committee hearings and executive orders.  For the majority of states these materials are largely unavailable.  However,  in 1970, Illinois adopted a new constitution that required that floor debates be recorded (Illinois Constitution of 1970, Article 4, §7(b)). These transcripts of the floor debates are the primary source of legislative intent. The recording of these transcripts began in October of 1971 with the 77th General Assembly. 

For the State of Illinois, a legislative history consists of the floor debates, comments made at the second and third reading of the act, the Governor’s veto message and committee reports from the House.  Floor debates and the Governor's statements are available through the Illinois General Assembly website:

The process

Legislation is assigned a bill number as it is introduced. The bill number is the key piece of information to do a legislative history. Before legislation is enacted and becomes law, it is a bill. To do a legislative history, the researcher must work backward from the law as published in Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated to the bill number and then track the bill forward through the legislative process.

West’s Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated contains a compilation of the laws of Illinois by subject. Following the statute, the enacting statute and any amendments are listed as Public Acts. In addition, there is a section titled ‘Historical and Statutory Notes’ which contains an abbreviated discussion of changes effected by each amendment.  Where a statute has been amended, it is essential to verify which Public Act contains the language whose meaning is questionable.  

Laws of Illinois

Each General Assembly lasts for two sessions. Each session is one year. The General Assemblies are numbered consecutively and as laws are enacted, they are published as Public Acts in the Laws of Illinois. This set is a chronological arrangement of laws enacted by the Illinois General Assembly. A public act with the citation "Public Act 88-670" indicates that it was the 670th law enacted by the 88th General Assembly. Bills are renumbered at the beginning of each General Assembly, so the number of the General Assembly is important. In the Laws of Illinois, just below the Public Act number is the original bill number.

Copies of Public Acts are also available at the Illinois General Assembly website: Click on ‘Public Acts' listed under ‘Legislation and Laws’.  "The content available for previous General Assemblies varies; the earlier the GA, the less information that is available in a usable electronic format."  Illinois General Assembly, (April 23, 2007).

House and Senate Bills

Copies of bills are available at the Illinois General Assembly website: Click on ‘Bills and Resolution' listed under ‘Legislation and Laws’.  There is more complete information for later general assemblies.

House and Senate Journals

A House Journal or Senate Journal is a record of all actions taken on the House Floor or Senate Floor each Legislative Day.  Among the types of information to be found are amendments, motions, roll calls, and messages from the governor.  The Governor's statement appears in the Laws of Illinois before the text of the Public Act or in the House and Senate Journals.  These statements are referenced under 'Governor' in the subject index of the journals.

Copies of the House Journal and Senate Journal are available at the Illinois General Assembly website:  Click on ‘Journals’ listed under either the House or the Senate.

Floor Debates

Beginning with the 77th General Assembly, 1971-1972 floor debates are on line at the Illinois General Assembly website:   Floor debates are the major source of an Illinois legislative history.  Transcripts of floor debates are arranged by General Assembly and then by legislative day, those days the legislature is in session, numbered consecutively.  Legislators may debate the merits of a bill during its second and third reading. 

In order to find the date of the second and third reading for the 77th General Assembly (1971-1972) to the 89th General Assembly (1995-1996), you use the 'Master Index'.  To locate the 'Master Index', go to the Illinois General Assembly website, then to 'Previous General Assemblies', listed under 'Additional Resources'.  Choose the appropriate General Assembly and then click on 'Listing' for either the House or Senate Transcripts.  You will see a link for the 'Master Index'.  The index lists the bills, the dates on which they were read and the page number in the floor debates where the bill was discussed. 

In order to find the date of the second and third reading for the 90th General Assembly onward, choose the appropriate general assembly and click on 'Listing'.  Choose the appropriate bill and click on 'Bill Status'.  When you click on the bill status, you will see a synopsis of the bill and amendments and a history of bill, including the dates of the 2nd and 3rd reading of the bill.  If the Governor has made a statement approving the bill, an amendatory veto, or a veto message, the date is indicated which can be used to find the governor's statement in the journals. 

Floor debates are also available from the Illinois House of Representatives Transcription Department by calling (217) 782-4818. The cost is $.50 per page. Provide the bill number or Public Act number.

Committee Transcripts

House committee meetings are recorded on cassette tapes. These tapes are available from the Illinois House of Representatives Transcribing Clerk for a nominal fee per tape or cd-rom. Orders may be placed by phone by calling (217) 782-8100. Provide the bill number or Public Act number.

The Senate does not tape its committee hearings.


Wendt, Laurel A. Researching Illinois Legislative Histories - - a Practical Guide. 1982 Southern Illinois University Law Journal 601-623 (1982).


Manz, William H.  Guide to State legislative and Administrative Materials.  Buffalo, NY: William S. Hain.  2002, Pp. xii, 612.  [Res. KF 1 .G8 2002]

This libguide is adapted from a guide the Mark Kloempken wrote a couple of years ago