Law Research Guides: Florida Legislative History

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  • The Legislative Process

    In Florida, the bi-cameral legislature works very similarly to Congress. A Senator or Representative may have an idea for a new piece of legislation (or someone else may propose an idea to him or her). The Bill Drafting Service or the legislator draws up the language or text of the bill. The bill is then distributed to the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate, who gives it a number and prepares it for introduction.

    After a bill has been introduced/read the first time, it is assigned to a committee.

    The committee analyzes the proposed legislation, often conducting hearings to obtain information about the subject that the bill addresses. Once the committee has considered the pending law, it prepares a report, called a STAFF ANALYSIS. This document is one of the most important documents in Florida legislative histories. A staff analysis will usually describe the language of the bill and the differences between existing legislation and this new version. It will also discuss any economic impact that the proposed legislation will have.

    Once the staff analysis is issued, the bill can then be either sent to another committee for more discussion (some bills involve more than one subject area and subsequently are evaluated by more than one committee) or sent to the general floor for a vote.

    When a bill is presented on the floor, it becomes open for debate. These debates might offer a large amount of legislative intent information. When the discussions on the pending legislation have ceased, the chamber votes on the bill. If the bill passes, it is then transmitted to the other chamber where it begins the process again.

    Often, this is when a bill gets amended. If a piece of proposed legislation gets amended, it must go back to the first chamber for approval. Once all of the amendments are completed, and both sides of the legislature have approved the bill, the next, and final, step is to send the legislation to the Governor for signature into law. A bill can become law without the governor's signature if the governor takes no action for 15 days.

    When the legislation is finally approved, it becomes a session law. This new law is assigned a number and then sent back to a legislative committee to be codified into the Florida Statutes.

  • Finding the Legislative History

    Usually, when someone wants to locate legislative history, it is because he or she is seeking the legislative intent behind a particular piece of statutory language. Because of the nature of our legislative system, one statute could have been created and/or amended by several session laws ("acts").

    The most efficient way to do legislative histories is to locate the particular session law(s) that created and/or amended the particular word/passage/phrase in the relevant statutory section. Information regarding which session laws added/amended a statutory section can be located at the end of the statutory section in the HISTORY NOTES. The West's Florida Statutes Annotated does a good job of explaining how each amending session law affected each statutory section.

    Laws Passed Before 1969: The state of Florida did not begin keeping legislative materials archivally until 1969. From 1969 to about the mid '70s, most documentation is available, but sparse, and available only from the State Archives of Florida in Tallahassee.

    Laws Passed From mid-70s-1987: Documents from mid '70s to 1988 are complete, but also available only from the State Archives. Staff Analysis for selected laws passed from 1971-1997 are available online.

    Laws Passed from 1988-1996: It was not until the 1988 legislative session that the Staff Analyses became available to local libraries. The Compilation of Committee Staff Analyses... (Florida Collection KFF 15 .C652) contains all documents that pertain to particular session laws passed during these legislative sessions, including bill versions, Staff Analysis, committee research and reports (if available), voting information, and governmental signing statements. The material is arranged by session law number.

    Laws Passed 1996-1998: A CD-ROM of the material described above is available for 1996-1998. The CD-ROM is available at the Circulation Desk (Reserve Audiovisual KFF15 .F46).

    Laws Passed 1998-Date: For 1998-Date visit the Florida Senate's site: for 1998-date. The Staff Analyses are posted with the text of the relevant bills. You will need to find the original bill number for the session law. This can be done in the Digest of General Laws also available from this site.

    Additional Information: Additional Information, such as recording of debates, is available from the State Archives.

  • Sources For Florida Legislative Documents

    State Archives of Florida: 850-245-6700. Provides research services and copies of legislative documents as far back as the state keeps them. There is no charge for research, but there is a copying cost. Documents are deposited at the archives from the State Legislative Library 2 YEARS after the legislative session.

    Florida Online Sunshine: Florida legislative web site. Free online access to searchable full text of statutes and session laws. 

    Florida House of Representatives has online access to bills, Staff Analyses, and related information from 1998-date.

    Florida Senate has online access to bills, Staff Analyses, and related information from 1998-date. 

    Florida Legislative Library: 850-488-2812. Holds documents pertaining to legislative session one year before current year. All documents are deposited here prior to their being placed at the Archives.

    Digitized Legal Collections (collaboration of FL academic law libraries) includes Staff Analysis for selected Florida Laws from 1971-1997, as well as many other resources, including Florida Statutes (1955-96), Florida Administrative Code (1963, 1971), Florida Supreme Court Records and Briefs, and much more.

    Lexis: FLA library, FLTEXT file. Full text of bills back to 1992. Bill tracking in the FLTRCK file for currently pending bills only. Florida Legislative Bill History (FLA library; FLLH file) contains Staff Analysis, Governor's Messages and bill tracking from 2001 to date.

    Westlaw: FL-BILLS database. Combines full text of current, pending; legislation with summaries and bill tracking reports. Can also search separately in the FL-BILLTXT and FL-BILLTRK databases. FL-LH database contains the Staff Analysis from 1998, House and Senate Journals from 1998 and Governor's Messages from 2000.

    Florida Legislative Information Service: 850-488-4371, 800-342-1827. Provides copies of current bills and recently passed legislation upon request. Will mail copies at no charge, and will also notify callers of current status of bills.

  • Glossary

    Staff Analysis: Most important part of a legislative history. Summarizes the bill. Indicates the purpose and need for the bill and is updated as the bill is amended. Often referred to as "Committee Reports" by the courts. Please note that a staff analysis may not necessarily be produced for all pieces of legislation, but the majority do have one.

    Bills: Full text of pending, passed, and rejected House or Senate bills can be obtained from various sources depending on year of bill:

    • Florida Legislative Information: The legislative information service is run by the state. It will provide copies and information on current, pending legislation. 850-488-4371, 800-342-1827
    • Florida Online Sunshine: Florida legislative Web site. Free online access to searchable full text pending bills.
    • Lexis: Library: FLA, File: FLTEXT. Provides full text of Florida legislation from January 1992.
    • Westlaw: FL-BILLS database. Combines full text of current, pending; legislation with summaries and bill tracking reports. FL-BILLS-OLD contains same information for past legislative sessions, beginning with 1991.

    Floor Debate & Hearings: Floor debate is not transcribed in Florida. Audiocassettes are available from the State Archives.

    Committee Report: (Not to be confused with Staff Analysis). This is a letter of transmittal accompanying the bill. A short fact sheet – does not really illustrate intent. Available from Archives, and possibly from Compilation of Committee Staff Analyses ... (see reference, above).

    Governor Statements: Often evident in the form of vetoes and addresses. Can be obtained from from the State Archives. Printed in House & Senate Journals.

    House & Senate Journals: These publications, produced daily during the legislative session, summarize the events on the floors of the House and Senate. While not a verbatim transcript of activity, the journals do include amendments, committee referrals, and voting records. The journals are indexed at the end of each session (House Journal: Historic JournalsCurrent, Florida Collection KFF 18.H6; Senate Journal: Current, Florida Collection KFF 18.S4).