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Washington State Legislative History

This guide identifies online and print sources for researching the legislative history of bills enacted by the Washington State Legislature.


For bills enacted before 1991, you will need to consult print resources (all available in the Reference Area section of the Gallagher Law Library), but note that all of the print session laws and many of the print House and Senate Journals are digitized and available for free online (see sections below). Steps marked with an asterisk * are optional.

  1. Start with an RCW section. Note the citation to the session law you wish to follow (found at the end of each section in brackets).
  2. Retrieve the volume of the Laws of Washington. Note the bill number, which along with the year and session, is the key to finding legislative history information. Look for veto messages and effective dates.
  3. * Look at the Final Legislative Report for the background, summary, votes on final passage, effective date, and veto message if applicable.
  4. Check various versions of the bill. Sometimes you can infer intent by how the language of the bill changed.
  5. * Check the Legislative Digest and History of Bills for chronology and reporting committees. (This print publication ended with the 2017-2018 legislature.)
  6. Look at both the Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the House for points of inquiry, references to an ensuing debate, amendments and substitutions, and dates of floor action. Consult the appropriate index to each Journal by bill number. Note: A bill must pass both bodies before going to the Governor for his/her signature. If a bill originated in the House, it keeps its designation as a House bill and the same bill number, even when considered in the Senate. So in the Senate Journal, look for the index of House bills considered in the Senate.

About Session Law Citations

Every version of the Revised Code of Washington contains the history of each section. Here is an example:

For example, RCW 46.61.165 deals with high occupancy vehicle lanes. At the end of the section you will see:

[2011 c 379 § 1; 1999 c 206 § 1; 1998 c 245 § 90; 1991 sp.s. c 15 § 67; 1984 c 7 § 65; 1974 ex.s. c 133 § 2.]

This example shows when the law was first added to the Revised Code of Washington (the last citation in the brackets above) and all subsequent amendments. For instance, this section was amended during the 2011 legislative session as Chapter 379, § 1. It was also amended in 1999, 1998, 1991 (during a special session ("sp. s."), and 1984.

The phrase "Laws of Washington" is omitted from the citations because the editors of the Revised Code of Washington mistakenly believe that these citations are self-explanatory.

These citations refer to the year and chapter number of the law. As in this example, many sections have been amended several times over the years and you may see a series of citations.

If you have access to one of the commercially produced versions of the RCW (the Annotated Revised Code of Washington, published by LexisNexis and available on LexisNexis and LexisNexis Academic [UW Restricted] OR the Washington Revised Code Annotated, published by West and available on WestlawNext), you can review the historical notes to try to determine which of the enactments dealt with the specific issue or language in which you are interested.

House & Senate Journals

Many of the House and Senate Journals (dating back to 1891) are now digitized and are available through the Washington State Legislature's Legislative Information Center. The House and Senate journals are primarily procedural. They indicate which bills were read on particular dates, that a committee has considered a bill, and so on through the legislative process. For example:

Extract from the Senate Journal

Unlike the federal Congressional Record, these journals do not contain verbatim transcripts of debates and other conversations held on the floor. The one exception to that rule is the transcription of a question-and-answer exchange called a "point of inquiry." For example:

Point of Inquiry in the Senate Journal

Not all points of inquiry address legislative intent, but those that do can be useful.

Finding Print Sources in the Gallagher Law Library

All of the print sources referred to above are located in the Reference Area of the Gallagher Library.

Laws of Washington, 1889/90 to present

Final Legislative Report, 1979-date

Bills, 1889/90 to present
Senate, KFW6.S4
House, KFW6.H6

Legislative Digest and History of Bills, 1970 to 2018

Legislative journals, 1889/90 to present
Senate, KFW18.2.W32
House, KFW18.2.W3

Material Found at the State Archives

The Washington State Archives in Olympia, (360) 586-1492, has files on bills introduced after the mid-1970s. The date varies by individual committee. The files include whatever material the reporting committee compiled. Committees usually keep bill files for two years; for current bills, you must contact the reporting committee.

The Research Section of the Archives will pull, copy, and send bill files and committee tapes on request for a reasonable fee. Archives staff cannot pull and copy sections of massive legislation: the files are not organized by topic or bill section. The Archives are open to the public, so you may research any legislative history yourself. For more information, see the Archives' Legislative History guide and/or contact the Archives staff by email:

For bills considered before the mid-1970s, little material is available. Governor's files on specific bills are sometimes available from 1951-55 and 1965-84. Governors' files are not open until six years after he or she leaves office.

Legislative Council records from 1947-73 and personal papers of some legislators may also be useful, although the files are incomplete. See the Guide to the Papers of Washington State's Legislative Archives. CD3576.5.W37 1984 at Reference Office

Committee meeting tapes (real time, not transcribed) are also available from the mid-1970s. Tapes are not automatically sent when requesting a bill file; you must specifically request them. See also Audiorecordings.

The Washington State Legislature offers several oral histories of former legislators. These oral histories might be useful if a bill's sponsor discussed the bill in the oral history.