DOCUMENTING FLORIDA LEGISLATIVE INTENT

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FLORIDA INFORMATION ASSOCIATES, INC

P.O. Box 11144

Tallahassee, FL 32302-3144

(850) 878-0188

 

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Unlike Federal laws, for which a great deal of well-indexed information is available on Congressional intent, Florida laws present the researcher with several problems in documenting intent.

The current structure of the Florida Legislature originated with the 1969 Regular Session, the first after ratification of the 1968 Florida Constitution, which changed the frequency of legislative sessions from biennial to annual.  The Legislature then created permanent committees and hired a full-time administrative staff.  The committees and staff in turn developed a formal system of recordkeeping relating to their activities.

The 1969 change in the committees’ structure from session-based to one of continuing-existence is the reason why their official records begin only with the 1969 Regular Session, and do not exist for legislation enacted prior to that date.  (There are some pre-1969 records, but these are limited to a few bill summaries from the late 1960s and printed records such as the Senate and House Journals, session laws, etc.)

The year 1998 marks another significant change in legislative committee records, that being the year when the Florida Legislature began providing Internet access to digital documentation.  

Committee records are the intent researcher’s primary recource.  However, there are a number of factors which limit their usefulness.

  • The paper records—those produced from 1969 to 1996—are not currently available on-line.  These may be consulted only by examining them in person in the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee.

  • Many committees did not develop consistent criteria for creating and managing their records for several years after the 1969 session.  As a result, records from 1969 through the late 1970s are often fragmented and disorganized, where they exist at all.

  • The filing systems for paper documentation differed from committee to committee and even from year to year, making it difficult to locate specific kinds of material quickly.  Finding aids have been prepared by the State Archives, but these can be confusing and difficult to use for someone unfamiliar with the legislative process.  

  • In recent years, committees have been instructed to severely limit the types of records transferred to the State Archives for permanent preservation.

  • The sole record of actual committee deliberations are audio recordings.  (The Legislature does not fund transcription of these recordings.)  From 1969-2002 these were made on magnetic tape, an inherently unstable medium prone to technological obsolescence and other problems.  Digital recording was initiated in 2003 by some, but not all committees, and there are currently no universally accepted formatting standards for this medium.

The process of researching and documenting legislative history involves several steps.

The initial step is to identify the specific language under consideration, which may be a paragraph, a sentence, or a phrase in the current edition of the Florida Statutes.  It is essential to focus on the language and not the number assigned to the section and/or paragraph, as the latter may change over time.  The history notes at the end of the statutory section list the session law(s)—in the form “s. 3, ch. 91-225”—which created or amended the language codified under that section.  It is advisable to consult the edition of the Statutes published the year before the first law listed in the history notes, as some or all of the subject language may have been enacted during a prior session.  If that is the case, the scope of research must be extended to the laws listed in the earlier edition of the Statutes.

The next step is to examine the earliest session law listed in the history notes to determine if the subject language is present.  If it is not, each subsequent law must be examined to determine if it added or amended the relevant language.  Sometimes deletions can be as significant as additions.

Once the relevant session law(s) have been identified, the subject language must be traced through the legislative process, determining when and where it first appeared, whether in the original bill or in a subsequent amendment, and whether there were significant changes in the language during the process.

Each published session law includes in its head note the number of the Senate or House bill from which it originated.  This information provides the entry point into the Florida Legislature’s Final Legislative Bill Information Book (titled History of Legislation from 1967-1987), commonly known as the “citator.”  The citator is an essential tool for locating the documentation on individual bills.

The citator is published after the adjournment of each annual session (which includes any special sessions), and contains a chronology of actions affecting each filed bill;  it does not, unfortunately, include information on actions affecting these bills while they were in draft form, prior to official filing.  The citator cross references bills with similar or comparable language, and includes a number of indexes, including by subject and by statutory number.

The hard copy of the citator was discontinued in 2011 and is currently available in digital format online.  Citators for 1998-2010 are available online in PDF format.

After determining which bills (there will usually be at least two, one Senate version and one House version) addressed the subject language, the citator will provide the names of the committees to which they were referred.  Given this information, research then focuses on the records of these committees.  

Paper records produced by the Legislature prior to 1997 consist of a variety of documents, including draft bills, bills as filed, proposed substitute bills, substitute bills, committee and floor amendments (adopted, failed, withdrawn), staff analyses, background materials (reports, memos, letters, etc.)  Audio recordings exist for committee meetings (with some gaps) and floor debates.  Not all bills will be represented by all of these types of records, however, and in some cases, particularly special session bills, documentation can be extremely limited.

The Florida State Archives provides on-site access to legislative records in their custody, but is able to provide only limited service in response to written requests, charging a small fee per session law, plus copying charges.  However, the requester must do the preliminary research to determine which law(s) they need, and the Archives provides only the basic documentation.  They can offer only limited assistance in determining if additional material exists in their files.  

Digital versions of committee documentation have been produced by the Legislature since 1998.  (Digital documentation relating to the 1997 session was inadvertently erased from the official files.)  The types of documents available digitally are more limited than the older paper documents, but the records relating to each bill can generally be relied upon to be complete.  Most useful of all, the documents are text-searchable, which makes it easy to find specific words or phrases.

Acess to the Legislature’s website is free, but the site is primarily designed and maintained to meet the day-to-day needs of the Legislature and to provide information to persons interested in upcoming legislation.  While the documentation currently online dates back to 1998, there is no way to be certain that the older documents will remain online, or how the Legislature  will address the issue of providing access to records that are deemed not current enough to remain on their website.

Two published sources that treat the use of legislative records to establish intent are:

Robert M. Rhodes and Susan Seereiter.  “The Search for Intent:  Aids to Statutory Construction in Florida – An Update,” 13 Florida State University Law Review, 485 (1985).

Ronald Benton Brown and Sharon Jacobs Brown.  Statutory Interpretation, the Search for Legislative Intent.  National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2002.  (www.nita.org)


FLORIDA INFORMATION ASSOCIATES’

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY RESEARCH SERVICES

We have been specializing in Florida legislative history research since 1984 and have developed an extensive resource collection of materials which includes most major issue legislation from 1969 to date, and comprehensive coverage from 1988 to date.  Most of our documentation is either in digital format (post 1998) or has been electronically imaged (1969-1997) and can be delivered via e-mail, resulting in more expeditious service.

We offer a range of services, most unavailable from any other source, from simple retrieval of a few documents to in-depth research involving historical analysis of statutory language, compilation of data on all relevant bills, and the selection of pertinent documents—all at a reasonable cost.  (See our fee schedule for details.)  

Please contact us by telephone at (850) 878-0188, or e-mail us at ed@fia-research.com for a free consultation regarding your specific research needs.