The following is a modern step-by-step guide to researching legislative history in Texas. Of the various tools available to advocates practicing law in Texas, legislative history is perhaps one of the most underrated. When used effectively, legislative history may convince a judge to interpret and apply a statute beyond the literal meaning of its language. Cynics might argue that judges are inclined to cite legislative history when a literal application of a statute conflicts with their general notion of fairness.
Maybe it’s a well-kept secret among a select few practitioners, or maybe it’s because doing so requires slightly more research than typing a phrase into “Google” or “Westlaw,” but too few attorneys cite to legislative history in Texas. Even appellate courts have, in some cases, failed to consult the legislative record before interpreting a statute. Nevertheless, in Texas, “The fundamental rule governing the construction of a statute is to ascertain the intent of the legislature in enacting the statute.” As part of the separation of powers, courts are obligated to enforce the intent of the legislature “even though it may not be entirely consistent with the strict letter of the statute.”
Where one attorney argues that the letter of the law should be strictly applied in a particular case, a well-researched opponent might rely on the statute’s (1) bill analysis, (2) study-group reports, (3) legislative-council reports, and (4) floor debates to demonstrate why construing the statute in such a manner would violate the legislature’s intent.
Before the Internet became a prevalent medium for conducting legal research, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals provided attorneys with a guide to researching legislative history in Texas. The following step-by-step guide is a reproduction of the Court of Criminal Appeals' original guide, which I have “modernized” by incorporating steps for using the Internet to locate legislative material made freely available online by the Texas Legislature.
Click the following link to download the guide in its entirety: Download Amodernapproachtoresearchinglegislativehistoryintexas.
 See, e.g., Dillehey v. State, 815 S.W.2d 623, 624 n.2 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991) (noting that, although the court of appeals “did not research into the legislative history of the bills” at issue, “this was an appropriate case in which to do so”).
 Id.; see also Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 459 (1892) (“[A] thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers.”).
 See id. at 623–29 app. A.