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Missouri Legislative History: Legislative History

What is a legislative history?

Legislative history is the official paper trail of the legislative process used in tracking the legislative perspectives, intentions, considerations and background events leading up to the enactment of a law.

Why is legislative history important?

Statutory language may be vague.  Often determining how to interpret word or phrase can determine outcome of many issues.  Documents produced in the law making process are often used by attorneys and courts in an attempt to determine legislative intent or to clarify vague or ambiguous statutory language. All legislative documents are only persuasive legal authority.

The challenge with state legislative history research.

“The use of legislative history…at the state level …is no less important than in the federal area.  However, the sources for state legislative history and the available research tools are much less adequate and the process is often very frustrating.  In most states, it is virtually impossible to collect the necessary documents for a simple legislative history outside of the state capitol or its legislative library.”
How to Find the Law, 9th ed., Cohen, Berring & Olson

What legislative history documents are available in Missouri?

The typical librarian disclaimer when discussing Missouri legislative history is that there isn’t any!  Though with creativity we can usually find something about intent.  At the federal level the government is required to publish committee reports, hearings, debate, etc.  Typically none of that is available at the state level in Missouri.  The only easily accessible official government documents available for Missouri legislative history are the different versions of bills.  You can glean some information about intent by comparing what was deleted and added in the versions of the bill as it goes through the law making process.  There is limited information available in the House and Senate Journals and other types of documents.  See the Legislative Process & Documents page for more information.  Though not an official government source, newspapers are also a good source for legislative information. 

Tracing the Legislative History of a RSMO Citation

Start with a RSMO citation to locate the state law(s) creating and amending the section of the code you are interested in. You will find this information at the end of each code section.  The Missouri state laws affecting your code citation are listed in the order they passed and can be viewed in the Laws of MissouriMU students and faculty can use the Heinonline database to access Laws of Missouri. You may also want to note any cases or law review articles listed in the code, since these may contain information on legislative intent.  Two versions of the Missouri code are available:  Revised Statutes of Missouri, and Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes.

There may be multiple laws that impacted a particular code section.  Depending upon your issue, you may need to research the law making process for one or more of the laws affecting that code section.

It often requires a creative approach.

The U.S. Supreme Court case Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC is a great example of using creativity to introduce state legislative intent when there are no official documents showing intent available.  In this case the lawyers were able to obtain an affidavit from a State Senator as to his recollection of the committee's intent for the meaning of the law.  The attorneys also introduced newspaper accounts from the time that supported the Senator's statement. 

Here is an excerpt from the opinion:  "Although Missouri does not preserve legislative history...the State presented an affidavit from State Senator Wayne Goode, the co-chair of the state legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Campaign Finance Reform at the time the State enacted the contribution limits, who stated that large contributions have “ ‘the real potential to buy votes,’...The District Court cited newspaper accounts of large contributions supporting inferences of impropriety...".
Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Govt. PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 393 (2000)