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California Legal Research

An overview of resources for researching California law.

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California State Legislature

The California State Legislature is composed of two houses: the Senate and the Assembly. There are 40 members in the Senate, and 80 members in the Assembly. For more information about the legislature and the legislative process, visit the legislature's website:

California State Bills & Legislation


California statutes are organized into 29 subject categories. Researcher's must use the subject category and section number to locate or cite a particular statute. For example, the citation for California's definition of mayhem is Cal. Penal Code § 203, which means the statute is located in section 203 of the Penal Code.

California does not publish an official code. Lexis and Westlaw both publish unofficial, annotated codes:

Deering's California Codes, Annotated
Available in Lexis.
Sample Bluebook citation: Cal. Gov't Code § 424.3 (Deering 2010)

West's Annotated California Codes
Available in Westlaw.
Sample Bluebook citation: Cal. Gov't Code § 424.3 (West 2012)

You can also view and browse the California code online, through the California Legislative Information website:

Legislative History

Compiling a legislative history for a California statute is a complex process. The state does not consistently maintain written records of debates, hearings, and committee reports. Helpful sources of legislative intent include: various versions of the bill, the short digest by Legislative Counsel at the beginning of each bill, and express statements of intent or "findings" (which may appear in the text of the bill, but not in the code).

Steps to compiling a California legislative history

These research guides will walk you through the process of compiling a California legislative history:

Finding legislative history online

State legislature's websiteprovides access to bills, bill status, bill history, votes, veto messages, and more, from 1993 - present.Westlaw: bill analysis, committee analysis, and journals available from 1993 - present (coverage varies by item typeLexis: bill analysis and governor's messages available from 1999 - present (limited coverage before 2005). 

Can't find what you need online? 

Additional legislative history documents may be available from the State Archives.

Initiatives & Referenda

What's the difference between an initiative, a referendum, and a proposition?

Initiatives: legislation or constitutional changes proposed by the electors.  

Referenda: propositions that allow the electors to approve or reject all or part of certain types of statutes. 

Propositions: the proposed legislation for either an initiative or a referendum.

Where can I find initiatives, referenda, and propositions?

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