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WSLL @ Your Service November 2021

Legislative History - Beyond the Language of the Statute - Michael Keane

Researching legislative history is the exploration of the background of a statute, usually in search of documents that support a certain interpretation of the language. Facilitating a favorable interpretation of a statute can be as crucial in a given case or circumstance as identifying a favorable court precedent.

Laws of Wisconsin volume

With respect to the Wisconsin Statutes, the study of legislative history presents some challenges.  The legislative process in Wisconsin is not designed to document intent. The resources that can be relied on at the federal level are absent in the state. There is no record of floor debate in either house of the legislature. There is no official record of what was said and no transcript of what any member said about a bill during debate, although WisconsinEye archives video of floor sessions for recent years.

The lengthy narrative reports that are familiar to researchers of United States congressional action are unknown in Wisconsin - the Wisconsin legislative process leaves little in the way of documentation beyond the text of the legislation. WisconsinEye records select committee proceedings, but there is no official record of what any member or any citizen said as part of a committee proceeding. The official reports of legislative committees are normally just a record of the committee's recommendation for or against passage of the bill, and how each member voted on the recommendation.

The drafting file has become the primary source for legislative history in Wisconsin. Drafting files are an administrative record of how a legislative proposal was drafted. A drafting file normally contains any documentation provided to help the drafting attorney to help in drafting the proposal. 

How to get started

Librarians can help you identify sources, and the David T. Prosser Jr. Library hosts a full collection of legislative drafting file microfiche in addition to acts and statutes dating back to the origin of the state. To save time, here are some things to consider before you head to the library.

Limit your search to a specific word or phrase. Research as narrow a section of statutory language as you can. Resist the temptation to research the history of an entire section of the statutes. This will usually reduce the number of pieces of individual legislation that need to be examined.

State what kind of information you are trying to find. What is the legal question you are trying to answer, or the element of doubt you are trying to remove?  Being able to articulate what type of documents or what sort of historical context you want might help you to answer your questions.

Try to identify a specific piece of legislation that created the language in which you are interested. Finding the correct session law or enactment is often the most time-consuming aspect of legislative history research. If you already know the correct biennial legislative session and act number, we can usually provide you with the relevant documentation quickly.

Let us know if there is a time limit. If you are under a deadline to finish your research, let us know. Contact reference staff for help with your legislative history questions by email at wsll.ref@wicourts.gov or phone at 608-267-9696.

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New Books - Kari Zelinka

thinking like a writer book cover

New Edition! Thinking Like a Writer: a Lawyer's Guide to Effective Writing and Editing, 4th edition, by Stephen V. Armstrong and others, 2021
Call Number: KF 250 .A76 2021

As a lawyer, paralegal, judge, or other legal professional, you need to clearly express yourself in writing, as well as verbally on a daily basis. In their newly updated and reorganized 4th edition of Thinking Like a Writer: a Lawyer's Guide to Effective Writing and Editing, authors Stephen Armstrong, Timothy Terrell, and Jarrod Reich give universal principles for organizing complicated information and sound technique to put these principles into practice, whether you are writing a email, a brief or a judicial opinion. They provide before and after examples of adequate writing turned into convincing, clear arguments. At the end of each chapter is a checklist summarizing their advice. In addition to honing your writing techniques, the authors focus on editing and giving feedback as well.

Chapters include:

  • Making the structure explicit
  • Making form match substance: avoiding organizational traps
  • Writing effective introductions
  • Emails, letters and legal memoranda
  • Briefs
  • Judicial opinions
  • Paragraphs: focus, flow, and emphasis
  • Words: precision and brevity
  • Style: energy and character
  • Editing yourself and others

captured justice book cover

New Edition! Captured Justice: Native Nations and Public Law 280, 2nd edition, by Duane Champagne and Carole Goldberg, 2020
Call Number: KF 8550 .C48 2020

When 1953 Public Law 280 was enacted, it greatly restricted federal criminal jurisdiction and greatly expanded state jurisdiction in indigenous nations in six states, including Wisconsin. In the second edition of Captured Justice: Native Nations and Public Law 280, new legislation and policy changes from tribal, federal, state, and local levels that affect Public Law 280 are detailed.  The findings of the 2021 report of the Indian Law and Order Commission are included, as well as advances by indigenous nations and states towards greater cooperation between governments.  Check out this book today to review Public Law 280 and learn about recent updates.

Chapters include:

  • Over 65 years of Public Law 280
  • A framework for understanding Indian country criminal justice
  • Policing: program management, cultural compatibility, fairness
  • Courts: service delivery, cultural compatibility and fairness
  • Funding
  • Tribal-State cooperative law enforcement agreement under Public law 280
  • Retrocession from public law 280
  • The present and future of public law 280

New Titles RSS Feed See our latest New Titles list for a list of new books and other resources.

For assistance in accessing these or other resources, please contact our Reference Desk.

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Tech Tip - Heidi Yelk

511 WI is a great road companion

511 Wisconsin screen shot

As more people return to in-person work and winter sets in, it's time to get reacquainted with 511 Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's website for traffic events, road conditions, traffic cameras, and more.

A nice feature of the 511 Wisconsin website is the ability to create an account and designate your own traffic routes at "My511WI." By doing so, you can get personalized travel times, accounting for current weather, traffic, and delays on the road. Users can receive emails or text messages regarding "events" on the route (such as disabled vehicles, crashes, and cleared incidents).

Much of the information on 511 Wisconsin is updated by the minute. Road construction updates occur every 10 minutes while winter road conditions are updated less frequently. The home page also includes links to news events and various DOT Twitter feeds, which includes regional updates, construction project progress, and road closure alerts. See the 511WI FAQ for more information on features and usage tips.

The website is easy to use on a mobile phone but "WisDOT reminds you to know before you go or leave it in the hands of your passengers."

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Library News - Carol Hassler

Thanksgiving closures

All three libraries will be closed on Thursday, November 25th for the upcoming state holiday. The Dane County Law Library will also be closed, along with other Dane County offices, on Friday, November 26th. To ask a question while we are closed, please send an email to wsll.ref@wicourts.gov or leave a voicemail at 608-267-9696.

Happy Thanksgiving banner with pumpkins

Librarians reach out

Library staff published two articles in this month's State Bar of Wisconsin InsideTrack. In early October, librarian Carol Hassler gives an overview of what drafting records are in relation to legislative history research in Legal research: dive into drafting files for legislative history. Learn some quick tips for making the most of the online drafting records, available through the Legislature's website.

It may be November, but we're still polishing off our leftover candy! Celebrate the spooky season with Milwaukee librarian Beth Bland's article, Legal research: 'Is my costume legal?' Halloween resources for lawyers. Get some quick links to helpful articles, covering topics from law-abiding celebrations for the living, to the resale value of haunted houses.

Legal research programs at WLA

For librarians attending the Wisconsin Library Association's annual conference, Carol Hassler will be presenting two sessions on legal research topics.

Wednesday, November 17, 11:30-12:15
Understanding the Wisconsin Circuit Court Records Website

CCAP is the popular nickname for the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website, which provides information about circuit court cases in Wisconsin. Learn what's in WCCA and get tips for creating successful searches. This session will also discuss common questions library users may ask about the database.

Thursday, November 18, 2:00-2:45
Legal Reference: Sources and Strategies

Librarians can be at the front lines of the legal system. Join the presenter for an overview of some favorite sources for answers to frequently asked legal reference questions. Survey sample questions and answers for family law, landlord/tenant, estates and wills, civil and small claims cases, and more. Learn about print, database, and online sources, and how the Wisconsin State Law Library's website and services can be used to optimize your legal reference services.

Don't miss University of Wisconsin Law Library's Elizabeth Manriquez's informative presentation on legal reference and access to justice on Friday!

Friday, November 19, 10:00-10:45
How Can I Advise Without Giving Advice?

Today in the United States, there is an enormous gap between the need for and availability of civil legal assistance for lower- and middle-income people. Libraries can help bridge this gap. In this session, the speaker will present tools to help public librarians navigate the legal research process, effectively utilize government information, and outline cost-effective databases available to non-practitioners. She will also discuss further training options available to public librarians and successful projects across the country developed to bridge the civil justice gap in the United States.

Image source

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November Snapshot

microfiche in a drawer

Fiche Files
Photo by Carol Hassler

Legislative history research can be time consuming, particularly when the drafting files you need aren’t online. Fortunately, you can use the microfiche scanner at the David T. Prosser Jr. Library to read and save or print pages from drafting records easily.

We are accepting snapshots! Do you have a photo highlighting libraries, attractions or points of historical interest? Send your photo to the editor at carol.hassler@wicourts.gov to be included in a future issue.

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