LEGAL RESEARCH CORNER
By ROBERT LINZ
When the 72nd General Assembly commences in January 2019, many researchers will want to follow the developing legislation. In the Second Regular session of the 71st General Assembly, the House considered 441 bills and the Senate considered 280 bills on a wide range of subjects, both controversial and mundane.1 Researchers need a way to sift through this large amount of legislation so they can track legislation pertinent to them through the legislative process. The General Assembly's website offers one approach. So too do commercial services, which offer not only access to the status of legislation and documents created in the process, but also methods to track and share the legislation's progress. This article examines three commercial services that provide varying levels of free access to their legislative tracking services and compares their offerings with the General Assembly's website.
Legislative History Research
A legislative history is one way to ascertain legislative intent when language in a statute is ambiguous. When compiling a legislative history for a piece of legislation, researchers typically locate and review the documents created during the legislative process.3 These documents include committee reports, versions of the bills, and recordings of hearings and floor debates.4
Many researchers consider committee reports the most helpful indicators of legislative intent, because it is the committee that weighs the supporting documents and testimony of persons familiar with the subject of legislation as it considers the bill. However, Colorado committee reports lack the detailed discussion of a committee's findings and discussion that researchers find in Congressional committee reports. Colorado researchers will also need to obtain the various versions of the bill to more clearly understand what language the legislature changed during the legislative process.5
Colorado researchers have another resource at their disposal when researching legislative history: audio recordings of the committee hearings and floor debates that have been recorded since 1973. Audio recordings from 2012 to present are available on the General Assembly's website, and all previous audio recordings are available from the Colorado State Archives.6 By listening to these audio recordings, researchers can often glean what intent legislators may have formed during the committee hearings or floor debates. Researchers can also listen to live proceedings during a legislative session.7
It is important to locate each of these resources when conducting legislative history research. Together, they form the core of understanding legislative intent as it developed or as it is developing.
The General Assembly's Website
The General Assembly's website provides access to all of these documents, along with other useful information about legislators and the legislature.8 In 2016, the General Assembly's website was revised, which both simplified the process to locate and track legislation and created a more visually appealing interface. However, bills and legislative information before 2016 are still located on the previous version of the website. Researchers conducting legislative history research for older legislation will need to navigate the somewhat Byzantine labyrinth of pages of links containing this information. Happily, researchers tracking current legislation can enjoy the improved design of the new website.
The first step in the process is to identify relevant bills. Researchers can search for a bill on the General Assembly website by bill number, keyword, or sponsor. These search options can be used independently or combined with subjects to further narrow the list of relevant legislation. Researchers can quickly scan the result list of bills to identify the bill tide, number, and originating chamber. This list also includes a brief summary of the bill, the last action taken on the bill, and the bill sponsors. Selecting any...