Exploring NC Legislative History Materials Online: Bill Tracking

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State legislative history research can be a daunting task even for the most experienced legal researcher. Luckily, North Carolina makes many legislative history materials freely available online, which saves legal researchers both time and money. This blog post will be the first in a series highlighting some of the online resources available to those interested in researching the legislative history of North Carolina law.

We begin our foray into online state legislative history content by looking at the North Carolina General Assembly’s website and the bill tracking features that are available for legislation from 1985-present. One of the first steps in any legislative history research process is to get an understanding of the bill’s movement through the legislature, including amendments made to the text of the bill, the legislative committees that considered the bill, and the voting record for the final version of the bill.The bill tracking features on the NCGA website will provide you with all of this information.

To use these features effectively, you will need to know the bill citation for the legislation and the legislative session (i.e., the year) in which it was considered.

Step 1: Identifying a Bill Citation and Legislative Session

The bill citation will start with either “H” (for House Bill) or “S” (for Senate Bill) and be followed by a number. For example, the North Carolina Farm Act of 2018 can be located at S711. This number tells you two things: (1) the bill originated in the Senate and (2) it was the 711th bill introduced into the Senate during that legislative session.

However, it is likely that you will start your research with a different citation, say to the North Carolina General Statutes or to a session law. You can use either of those citations to identify the bill number and legislative session using the following strategies:

  • Starting with a N.C.G.S. Citation: Use the legislative history line at the end of the statute text to identify the session law citation. The legislative history line will be inside a parenthetical and provides the dates and session law citations for the original legislation and all amendments. The session law citation will always start with a year (giving you the legislative session) and then be followed by another number. Take a look at the highlighted text in the NCGS section below for an illustration of this:
Image of NCGS Section 601-501.1
Image of NCGS Section 601-501.1
  • Starting with a Session Law Citation: Once you have the citation to the session law, you can access it using the NCGA’s Session Law’s “Lookup By Number” feature here, and use it to identify the bill citation.The text of the session law always provides you with the original bill number, and it is located near the top of the page. Here is the North Carolina Farm Act of 2018 at 2018-113. You can see from this page that the bill number citation, S711, is given at the top immediately after the session law citation: 
Image of NC Session Law
Image of NC Session Law

Step 2: Accessing a Bill on the NCGA Website 

Once you have your bill citation, you can use the “Find a Bill” search feature at the top of the NCGA's website to directly jump to the bill tracking page that you need. You can always locate the "Find a Bill" search feature at the upper, right-hand corner of the website.

But suppose you started this research process with just some key terms in mind, and you don't yet have any citation to guide your use of the website. The NCGA website also offers a “Search Bill Text” option that allows you to keyword search for relevant bills. It is less reliable and will often produce large result sets with unrelated content, but it is another option. 

The following screen cap highlights both options - the "Find a Bill" option is in the upper, right-hand corner, while the "Search Bill Text" feature is the main content on the page:

NCGA Website - Find a Bill
NCGA Website - Find a Bill
Step 3: Using the Bill Tracking Features

Once you’ve found your bill number, you are ready to access the bill tracking features on the NCGA’s website! From this page, you can view different versions of the bill, track the voting history, and identify any legislative committees that considered the bill. This information can be useful in a variety of ways, including providing you with specific dates to check in the House and Senate Journals and identifying the names of committees that may have produced content (hearings transcripts, committee reports, etc.) related to the legislation.

To view an example, check out bill tracking page for S711, the North Carolina Farm Act of 2018:

NCGA Website - Bill Tracking
NCGA Website - Bill Tracking

The North Carolina General Assembly’s website is the first stop in your online legislative history research process. Check back here next month for an overview of conducting research on NCGA legislative committees!

If you are interested in learning more about conducting legislative history research in North Carolina, you can also check out the UNC Law Library's North Carolina Legislative History research guide.

Posted by Melissa M. Hyland on Thu. March 14, 2019 1:21 PM
Categories: Uncategorized

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