Guide to Maryland Legislative History Research

This Guide was created by Library staff members in 2010 and was last updated in 2023. The Guide serves as a companion piece to Michael S. Miller's Ghosthunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History.

The Guide is accompanied by a Worksheet to aid in the research process.

‘Legislative history’ generally refers to the legislative documents that are produced by a legislative body during the process of studying and debating a bill that may be enacted as a statute.

Note: Steps 1-3 may be sufficient in many cases. Steps 4-5 may be necessary if legislative bill files are not available for your time period or you are seeking to compile as much information as possible.


Step 1: Identify the statute of interest within the Maryland Code. 

First, determine the purpose of your research. What is your research goal? If you do not have a statute, bill, or session law to work from, you may need to begin by searching for keywords in a legal database such as Westlaw, consulting the index to the Maryland Code, or searching the General Assembly website.

Evaluate whether your research pertains to a specific definition, phrase, or subsection within the statute. Consider whether you need to see the language of the statute at a particular point in time, or if you are seeking the legislative intent behind the original passage or a subsequent amendment of the law. You may need to track changes to the statute across an arc of time.

Review the history note at the end of the statute. The citations that make up the history note, (which are sometimes referred to as a “parenthetical” based on the format of the Lexis Code volumes in print), provides a history of amendments displayed in chronological order. 


Example History Note


Note that Maryland statutes have been recodified over time, gradually transferring from a series of numbered Articles (e.g. Article 27) to the named Articles we have today (e.g. Criminal Law Article). The first amendment listed in the parenthetical citation is the original enactment of the statute in its current location, but the language of the statute could have been codified elsewhere previously. Therefore, it is important to review the session law or earlier history for information about the origins of the language. 

Depending on the timeframe of interest, it may be necessary to go back to a prior codification to review the parenthetical and gather earlier history of the statute. 


Example History Note


Annotated Code: This is a version of the Maryland Code that includes annotations. Annotations are notes added by the Code publisher pointing to resources that define, apply, analyze, or otherwise further explain how the statutory language has been used or discussed. Use a legal database or the print volumes of the Maryland Code (West or Lexis) to read the annotations that follow the statute. Annotations sometimes include summaries of amendments and information about legislative intent, as well as court decisions that have interpreted the statute and law journal articles that discuss the legal topic. 


Step 2: Read the session law.

The statute’s parenthetical citation will display the session laws in an abbreviated format indicating the session year and the chapter number, such as: 1997, ch. 14. 

Session laws (also called chapter laws) are the laws passed by the legislature during a particular legislative session. The Chapter number is assigned chronologically in the order of bill passage. Session laws can provide vital information, such as:  

  • the preamble, which describes the law 
  • new, deleted or changed language  
  • revisor’s notes.  

Maryland session laws are contained in a publication called the Laws of Maryland. 

The Library’s Conference Room contains a complete set of the print volumes of the Laws of Maryland, which are arranged by chapter number for each session year. Each chapter provides the purpose of the statutory change and any amendments to the act made during the enactment process.  

The Laws of Maryland are available in digital format from several sources. Searching and browsing capabilities vary among these providers. 

  • The Maryland State Archives website has free digitized copies of the Laws of Maryland, from colonial times to present.  
  • HeinOnline (available at the Library and to Maryland Judiciary Staff and at some Circuit Court law library locations) has digitized copies of the Laws of Maryland (and its colonial predecessor), from 1692 to present. Within the database, select the “Session Laws Library,” then enter the state, year, and chapter number. 
  • The General Assembly website has an index of chapters and bill numbers, starting in 1996. Since 2007, the General Assembly has offered PDF versions of Chapter Laws, as they appear in the Laws of Maryland. These are available from links on the corresponding bill page.  

Make note of the House or Senate bill number in the header of the session law. 


Step 3: Use the bill number to locate legislative sources.

It is important to note whether the bill number provided in the session law is for the House (H.B.) or the Senate (S.B.). To locate bill numbers from 1996 to the present, it may be easiest to use the General Assembly website's index of chapters and bill numbers. Remember to note the year as well as the bill number, as bills are numbered consecutively throughout a single session; numbers begin at 1 in each new session. 

Bill Drafting Information from the General Assembly: 

General Assembly Website Materials: This resource has bill drafting information from legislative sessions beginning in 1996, including: Fiscal and Policy Notes, since 2002; Fiscal Notes, from 1996 to 2001; and amendments to bills. These resources are available from the Legislation page for each bill.  

Legislative Bill Files: Beginning in about 1976, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) began consistently compiling legislative bill files, which contain valuable information for legislative research. The contents of bill files will vary based on the year and the bill, but generally they may contain: 

  • Bill drafting information 
  • Copies of the bill as initially submitted, and from subsequent readings 
  • Fiscal note 
  • Hearing Witness lists and testimony 
  • Amendments 
  • Committee votes 
  • Committee reports 

Senate and House bill files are available from the DLS Library as noted: 

  • 1965-1972: Limited early materials from session interims from are available in microfilm, arranged by Legislative Council Report “item number.” 
  • 1967-1974: A limited number of original Files from regular sessions —consult “Pre-1975 Legislative History Files List” to determine holdings. 
  • 1976-2004: Files between 1976 and 2004 are available in microfilm. 
  • 1976-1999: A limited number of original Files from regular sessions between 1976 to 1999 are available—consult “Files Kept in Stacks List” to determine holdings. 
  • 2000-2018: Original Files are available. 
  • 2019-2023: Original Files are retained by the legislative committee to which the bill was referred; consult the DLS Library to determine access. 

Dates of coverage of bill files located at the Thurgood Marshall State Law Library are available in the Library's catalog. The State Law Library has the following bill files: 

  • 1976-2004: Files between 1976 and 2004 are available in microfilm. 
  • 2003-2009: Online bill files are available in the Library’s Digital Collections .

Audio and video recordings: Since 1992, Senate committee and floor proceedings have been audio recorded. Audio recordings from both Senate and House floor proceedings are available on the General Assembly website beginning with the year 2000. The General Assembly website offers video recordings of House committee hearings from 2011 – present, and video of Senate hearings from 2014 – present. 

Other Legislative materials: If bill files are not available for your time period of interest, or if you need additional information for your research, the following resources may also be consulted. All of these publications are housed in the Library’s State Publication Collection. 

Legislative Policy Committee: 

The various reports to this Committee include findings and recommendations made as a result of the work done between sessions by legislative committees.  

The Library's holding include: The Reports of Committees to the General Assembly, from 1977 to 1981, [call #LE 3(A).2 :RAP] and the successor Summary Reports, from 1983 to the present, [call #LE 3(a).2 :SRO] 

Legislative Council: 

Reports to the General Assembly: The Legislative Council, which existed from 1939 through 1975, studied various problems facing the State during legislative interims. The Council's annual reports consist of summaries of legislative proposals.  

The Library's holdings include Reports from 1941 to 1975 [call # LE 3(A).2:RAP]. These are also available in the Library’s Digital Collections   

Research Reports: Between 1940 and 1958, the Research Division of the Legislative Council produced 32 studies on a range of topics. The Library has cataloged each report separately [call# LE 3a.2:LCR]. These are also available in the Library’s Digital Collections 

The Commission to Revise the Annotated Code: 

The Commission issued several reports in the 1970's detailing the revisions of Articles from the 1957 Edition of the Maryland Code. The Library has cataloged each report separately, but all are available in the State Publications Collection [call #LE 5.2:CR]. Additionally, the first publication of each new Article includes comprehensive Revisor's Notes, which explain changes made during the revision. The Library also has the Maryland Style Manual for Statutory Law [call #LE 5.2:SMO]. The Department of Legislative Services' website has additional information on the revision process. 

Maryland House and Senate Journals: 

There is relatively little legislative history here. However, the last volume of the year contains a subject index of all bills introduced that session. This is the only source, prior to 1996, that provides easy access to bills that failed, which at times illuminate legislative history of similar bills enacted during a later session. The journals show the progression of the bill through the stages of the legislative process. The General Assembly’s website gives comprehensive coverage of bill passage since 1996. 

Department of Legislative Services Session Review: 

The Department of Legislative Services summarizes each session in a series of publications, listed below. Summaries within the reports are arranged by major topic and bill number. Most of the summaries are brief, but on occasion, a longer discussion is included. 


Step 4: Look for Maryland cases that discuss legislative history.

It is possible that someone has already researched the history of your statute of interest. It can be helpful to search for court opinions, law review articles, and other secondary resources that may discuss legislative histories in-depth or provide general direction and context for your research.  

Case Law: 

The Courts often discuss the legislative history of a particular statute (see, for example, In re Jason W., 378 Md. 596 (2003); Conaway v. Deane, 401 Md. 219 (2007); State v. Johnson, 415 Md. 413 (2010); Gardner v. State, 420 Md. 1 (2011); Johnson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 430 Md. 368 (2013); Montgomery County v. Phillips, 445 Md. 55 (2015); Blackstone v. Sharma, 461 Md. 87 (2018); Hayden v. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 242 Md. App. 505 (2019); Payne v. State, 243 Md. App. 465 (2019); Berry v. Queen, 476 Md. 501 (2020); and Moore v. RealPage Utility Management, 476 Md. 501 (2021))

Please note that there may be additional cases that address more specific scenarios.  

Secondary Sources: 

Law review articles and legal treatises may also provide guidance as to how the courts use legislative history. Some key titles include: Jack Schwartz and Amanda Stakem Conn, "The Court of Appeals at the Cocktail Party: The Use and Misuse of Legislative History," 54 Md. L. Rev. 432 (1995); and Norman J. Singer and J.D. Shambie Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction (formerly called Sutherland Statutory Construction).

Use the Library’s Journal & Law Review Portal (linked from our main online catalog page) to explore our collections. 


Step 5. Analyze history using other state government and outside state government resources.

Reports from Legislative and Executive Task Forces and Study Commissions:  

The reports of these formal entities, charged by the Governor or the General Assembly with finding legislative solutions to social or economic problems, can be a rich source of legislative history. The State Law Library has digitized many of these reports and maintains a comprehensive print collection, shelved in the State Publications Collection at call number Y 3.

Annual Reports and Publications of Executive Agencies and the Judicial Branch:

The annual reports and other publications of executive branch agencies and the Judiciary might provide some historical leads. The State Law Library has a comprehensive collection of these publications, and many also are available from other state depository libraries.

Newspaper, Magazine, and Journal Articles

Contemporary news articles may have featured legislative developments. The Library internally offers full-text online databases of the Baltimore Sun (1837 – present) and the Annapolis Capitol (1887 – present). The Library also offers the Maryland Daily Record on microfilm and online from 1888 – 1923 and from 2001 – present. These sources might provide additional details about legislation. If a researcher finds coverage of legislation on a particular date in one of the databases, he or she can more easily search a similar date range in one of the others.

The Department of Legislative Services compiles useful and relevant newspaper clippings in a circular titled the Maryland Clipper. The Library has retained these since 1989. The most current several years are retained in the Maryland State Publications collection [call# LE 4.2:MC]; earlier issues are in basement storage and are available for use upon request.

Governor's Messages and Vetoes:

The Governor's messages often provide insight into the administration's proposed legislation. The traditional State-of-the-State message of the Governor appears in the House and Senate Journals, which the Library houses in its storage collection. The Governor's budget message usually is submitted as a separate publication with the annual state budget books. Executive veto messages generally appear in the Maryland House and Senate Journals (usually at the beginning of the session) and in the Laws of Maryland.

Reports of Professional and Trade Associations and Stakeholders

Although most of this material will be topically oriented, legal researchers might pay special attention to the legislative reports contained in the Reports of the Annual Meetings of the Maryland State Bar Association, 1896-1991. This resource is both online and in print, shelved in the Maryland Law Collection [call #KFM1281 .M382].

Legislative Study Group Publications

The Legislative Study Group, an organization including both legislators and community leaders, issued studies and periodic newsletters between 1977 and 1984. The Library has cataloged each publication separately, but all are available in the State Publications Collection [call #LE 9.2 :IR].

Documentation from National Legislative Organizations

The General Assembly may have looked to other states in the crafting of specific language, especially for uniform and model laws. For example, it may have followed the uniform law proposals of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The Conference's Annual Proceedings are shelved in the Library's Legal Texts Collection at call number KF165 .A2. The Uniform Law Commission offers an online archive of the Conference's recent drafts of uniform laws. Maryland also could have adopted model codes of the American Law Institute; the Library's catalog has individual records for each model code. The Council of State Governments also offers Suggested State Legislation, available in the Library's Legal Texts Collection [call #KF165 .C68].

For Further Assistance

Compiling legislative history can be a time-consuming and daunting task, especially for someone new to the experience. TMSLL has several librarians on staff with extensive experience in legislative research.

We are always on hand for any additional guidance. Contact us at: [email protected] or 410.260.1430.