Iowa Legislation
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Overview and Basic Sources
Bills and Explanations
Bill Request Files/Bill Drafting Files
House and Senate Journals

Overview and Basic Sources

  • The 2003 book Iowa Legal Research Guide contains chapters that discuss conducting statutory research, tracking Iowa legislation, and finding legislative history information. The Law Library has three copies of this guide at KFI4275.E339 on Reserve, in Ready Reference, and in the Iowa Wing.
  • The Iowa General Assembly offers guides to How a Bill Becomes a Law and How an Idea Becomes a Law.
  • For an example of how Iowa legislative history materials have been used in Iowa courts to interpret statutory intent, see Legislative History Records at KFI 4275.M36 1999.
  • The Legislative Services Agency (formerly the Legislative Service Bureau) prepares an annual Summary of Legislation by topic passed by the Iowa General Assembly. These are accessible from 1969-2006 through the Iowa Legislature Heritage Digital Collections (Browse collections; use drop-down menu to select Summary of Legislation - year).
  • The Iowa Law portion of the state Web site includes links to the Iowa Code, 1995-current, which provides some legislative history information; tables and current indexes to the Iowa Code; the Iowa Acts (session laws), 1998-current; which print the laws passed in a particular session of the General Assembly after the session ends; the current Iowa Administrative Code; the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, 1997-current; the Iowa Constitution; and Iowa Court Rules.
  • The Iowa Code Annotated, available at KFI4230 1949 .A4 in the Iowa Wing and Ready Reference collections, provides additional references that can be helpful in understanding a Code section. On the shelves next to it is the Iowa Legislative Service, which provides text of new laws, their file numbers, and dates of Governor’s approval. Underlining indicates new text, and strikeouts indicate deleted text.
  • See Basic Sources for Iowa Legal Research for a brief guide to other Iowa legal resources.

Bills and Explanations

The Track Legislation page of the Iowa General Assembly Web site offers a variety of ways to find the text, status, and brief history of current bills (House and Senate files, study bills, and resolutions) and amendments. Information for older bills is available in several ways, detailed below. Note that bills for the past several decades show changes from the current Code section, if any, via special formatting. Underlining indicates new text; strikeouts indicate deleted text. If entirely new sections are being added, just the words New Subsection will be underlined. Explanations began being appended to the end of the original bill in the 1960's, with most bills containing them by the 1970's. They are currently required by Senate and House rules. Some explanations are detailed; others (probably most) are not.
  • Bill Books include:
  • Copy of bill as introduced with explanation (last item). Some explanations in-depth; others are not.
  • Amendments to the bill, using a color-coded system
  • White - Bill as introduced
  • Blue - Senate amendment
  • Yellow - House amendment
  • Pink - Bill with amendments passed on it by originating chamber
  • Green- Senate study bill
  • Salmon - House study bill
  • Bill Books are available online via the Iowa Legislature Heritage Digital Collections (Browse collections; use drop-down menu to select year - legislation. Includes 55th General Assembly (1953) - present, scanned documents, color not included) and from the Track Legislation page of the General Assembly Web site (current session, shows color). The oldest ones are available in paper from the State Law Library (1937-present, shows color).
  • Bill text is also available online from 1995-2008 via a Web-based program, updated once a day and included in the Web site search engine. You may be able to access the original bill with the explanation using this feature:
    1. Click on the proper session of the General Assembly under the Bills and Amendments section of the archives.
    2. Select the bill you want to examine by entering the file number and type under Quick Find or browse by clicking on Display Bill Lists.
    3. Click on Track Versions of a bill and then click on the relevant file number. 
    4. At the bottom, there should be an explanation. (If there is not, consult the Bill Book. See below.)
  • Bills from 1977-1997 (67 GA - 77 GA, 1st session) are available in the library on microfiche. They show the latest version of the bill but do include the explanation, as well. You will need the General Assembly number as well as the House or Senate file, resolution, or study bill number to access these. (The House and Senate file numbers are printed in the relevant year of the Acts of the General Assembly, available in the library at KFI4225.A2.)
  • Bills from 1868-1980 are available from the State Law Library. Bills are in their original, unamended form, and include the explanation if one is available. They are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically by broad topic. The top of the first page of each bill has a typed note about what happened to it.

Bill Request Files (or Bill Drafting Files)

The Legislative Services Agency (LSA) (formerly the Legislative Service Bureau) keeps these files, which include:
  • the written request form for the LSA to draft the bill
  • the original version of the bill
  • possibly early drafts, notes, written comments from representatives, and model legislation from other states.
  • LSA retains bill request files for the current General Assembly plus the prior General Assembly. Original requests for bills are not available for viewing until they go to archives, unless permission is granted by bill sponsor (otherwise they are considered confidential). Archives go back to the 1967 and are kept in the State Archives, in the State of Iowa Historical Building. The archives are open to anyone 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Their materials can be used on premises only. To see a file, you need:
  • LSA (or LSB) number (from bottom of original bill)
  • Sponsor (from top of bill)
  • G.A. number and year.
  • LSA keeps a table that cross-references LSA (or LSB) number and file number. This is also available online by entering first the file type (e.g. Senate Bill, House Bill, etc.) and then the number.

    House and Senate Journals

    The Journals record actions taken in the House or Senate. They include information like motions made, and how legislators voted. Typically they do not provide much detail about debate on bills or amendments.
    • The most current Journals are available online in the Publications section under Session Publications, then Daily During Session, then Index. Older journals, starting with 1995, are available in the Archives. The Law Library has Journals available in print at KFI4218 .I54 for the House (back to 1872) and at KFI4218 .I58 for the Senate (back to 1854).
    • The Index to House and Senate Journals KFI 4218.5 .I5, includes a Senate-House companion bill table and brief histories of bills, with references to the Journals.


    • Committee minutes are available, but they tend to be very limited in their coverage. They note who attended and what bills were voted on/discussed. They might mention if someone spoke or distributed materials to committee members. Reference materials that the committee looked at are available for review, but copies of them are not made. To access committee minutes, contact the chief clerk of the House (switchboard number 515-281-3221) or Senate (switchboard number 515-281-3371).
    • Reports associated with legislation or with a governmental body might also be available. The Iowa Legislature Heritage Digital Collections (Browse collections; use drop-down menu to select Interim Committee Final Reports - year) offer access to final reports submitted to the General Assembly by Interim Study Committees from 1956-2004, and the State Law Library has them back to 1932. (See the Iowa Legislature site for a list of current committees or a list of committees back to 1995.) A selection of Legislative Guides and Legal Background Briefings prepared by the Legislative Services Agency are available online. The Legislative Services Agency also keeps a list of documents filed with the General Assembly from 2001 to 2004.
    • Compiled legislative history for some laws 1999 or later is available via Westlaw and LexisNexis. Search by keyword or bill number. (In the Lexis database, bill numbers are prefaced with HB or SB rather than the Iowa convention of HF or SF).

    Prepared by Karen Wallace, Circulation/Reference Librarian
    Last Revised May 2009, KW
    Please feel free to e-mail the author with suggestions for improving this guide.

      Last Modified: 10/22/2009 4:42:00 PM by Karen Wallace