Every state has its own Constitution. Those legislative acts resemble and differ from the Federal Constitution.
Like the federal Constitution, state constitutions identify each state’s legislative body and its prerogatives. The state legislative bodies enact state statutes, which have a limited geographical application, and, of course, will govern social activities other than those governed by federal statutes. State statues are subject to challenge in state courts on state constitutional grounds and in federal courts on federal grounds. For example, issues related to obtaining your driver’s license will be tried in state courts. On the other hand, issues related to the constitutionality of such procedures will be tried in federal courts.
Unlike the federal Constitution, state Constitutions are quite detailed. For example, the Constitution of the State of New York, Art. 9, § 2 sets the limits of municipal power. The constitutional “home rule” grants municipalities, including the City of New York, authority to act with respect to specific local matters.
In addition to its fundamental law, each state’s legislative body, usually bicameral, legislates in matters of public interest in a manner similar to the federal legislative body. Recent state legislation is often available online. For example, like all other state legislative bodies, the New York legislatures have a well-publicized Internet presence. From those sites, state statutes and legislative history can be located, although with less ease than their federal counterparts.
Like the federal statutes, state statutes are published both chronologically and topically. The chronological publication carries different names. In North Carolina they are Session Laws, while in Illinois they are Laws of Illinois, and in Kentucky they are Kentucky Acts. Usually, each state has one official publication of session laws and one or more commercial publications. The most current edition of the official publication of session laws is usually available from the state legislature’s Website free-of charge.
All state session laws are also available for a fee both in print and digitally. In the latter format they are available from Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberglaw. For example, the official version of session laws for the state of New York is called, Laws of New York. Their commercial print versions are: McKinney’s Session Laws of New York, published by West, and available from Westlaw, and New York Consolidated Laws Service Session Laws, published by Lexis, and available from Lexis.
Like the federal code which is published both by governmental and by private publishers, many state statutory codes are available from their state’s official site and from private publishers. In print, the situation is not the same. For example, while the New York statutes used to be published in an official statutory compilation called The Consolidated Laws of New York, currently, there is no official codification in print. However, the consolidated laws of New York are available from the state legislature’s Website.
Most state codes are published by all three major proprietary databases: Westlaw, Lexis, and BloombergLaw.com. The codified statutes of Kentucky, for example, are available in three commercial versions: Baldwin’s Kentucky Revised Statutes Annotated, which is published by West, and Michie- Kentucky Revised Statutes Annotated, published by Lexis. BloombergLaw.com offers access to this statutory codification under the name: Kentucky Statutes.
A few states, like New York, have four commercial versions of their codified statutes. McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated is published by West and available on Westlaw. New York Consolidated Laws Service is published by Lexis and available on Lexis. Gould’s Consolidated Laws of New York is published by Gould
Publications. Finally, New York Statutes is available from BloombergLaw.com.
But remember, all state statutes are available for free from the state’s official web site, such as the current North Carolina statutes which are available on the state legislature’s Website, as session laws organized chronologically, and as general statutes, organized topically or Illinois statutes are available on the state legislature’s Web site, both in chronological and topical order. In addition, Justitia.com covers state statutory codifications as well. If you need to access either the 2006 or the 2010 edition of New York State Statutory Code, Justitia proves to be a useful site.
The only value commercial databases add to state statutory research is the citators. However, when it comes to statutes, the value of those citators is always limited to the codified version of state statutes.
More on research tips in the sections below.