Wisconsin Legislation and Regulations
I. CONSTITUTIONWisconsin's Constitution and indexing to its text are available in the same publications as state statutes, as well as on the Internet.
II. STATUTESLaws enacted by the state Legislature and currently in force are arranged in broad subjects or "chapters." Each chapter is assigned a number and is divided into numbered "sections," which may be further subdivided. For example: 46.22(1)(b) is Chapter 46, section 22, subsection 1, paragraph b. Statutes are available in four places:
- Wisconsin Statutes (current edition - Reference Desk; earlier editions - Wisconsin Documents Z 5/2:)
- This official edition of the statutes is entirely reprinted in odd-numbered years to incorporate changes in the laws. There is a subject index near the end of the last volume.
- West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated (Ref Law Collection KFW2431.A3W4):
- Updated annually with pocket parts at the back of each volume. Except for faster updating, this text of the statutes is the same as in Wisconsin Statutes. A subject index is in softbound volumes at the end of the set. NOTE: The Library's subscription was discontinued in 1998.
- Internet sites:
FINDING STATUTES BY POPULAR NAMES OR SHORT TITLESSee Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names (Ref Law Collection KF80 .S5)
UPDATING STATUTESSee III and IV below for information on how to track current legislative action(s) on a topic or a section of the statutes. Citations to specific sections of statutes may be looked up in Shepard's Wisconsin Citations (Ref Law Collection KFW2459 .S5) to find lists of court cases, statutes, state Attorney General opinions, or legal periodical articles citing or affecting the legal status of specific statute sections. Researching legislative history in Wisconsin is available online.
III. SESSION LAWSLegislation passed during a legislative session is printed chronologically long before it is printed in the annual pocket parts to West's Wisconsin Statutes Annotated or in a new edition of Wisconsin Statutes. Each new law, which may repeal, amend, create, or renumber state statutes, is assigned an "Act" number. For example, the first piece of legislation passed during the 1991 legislative session is 1991 Act 1. Acts since 1969 are available on the Internet, and also printed as the "session laws" which are available in two places:
- Wisconsin Session Laws (Wisconsin Documents Z 5:)
- CURRENT SESSION: Each new law is issued as a separate "slip" law and filed in order by Act number in black binders. There is a subject index in the Bulletin of the Proceedings of the Wisconsin Legislature (Wisconsin Documents).
- PREVIOUS SESSIONS: Each session's "slip" laws are reprinted in bound volumes (on spine: Laws of Wisconsin). A subject index and a numerical list of affected sections of the Wisconsin Statutes are in the back of the last volume each year.
- West's Wisconsin Legislative Service (Ref Law Collection, last row, following Wisconsin Statutes Annotated):
- Softbound pamphlets containing session laws in order by Act number. Each issue contains a cumulative subject index. Note: The Library's subscription was discontinued in 1997.
IV. BILLSBills are PROPOSED legislation to repeal, amend, create, or renumber state statutes. Bills are drafted by the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) and introduced in either the Assembly or Senate, where they are assigned to a committee for consideration. Only a small percentage of them emerge from committee; those that do return to the Assembly or Senate where they were introduced. If that body votes to pass a bill, it then goes to the other body for similar consideration. If both the Senate and Assembly vote to pass a bill and can agree on its language, then it becomes an Act and goes to the Governor for signature or veto. Generally, transcripts of floor debates in the Assembly or Senate and committee hearings are not available.
- Bills (Ref Desk or Internet)
- It is possible to search for and display proposed Wisconsin legislation (bills) since the 1995/1996 session on the Internet. In addition, bills from the current and one previous legislative session may be requested at the Reference Desk - by Assembly Bill numbers (AB) or Senate Bill numbers (SB). Each bill is accompanied by a plain-language analysis from the LRB. Most bills are accompanied by fiscal estimates from state agencies (estimates of a bill's fiscal impact on state and local revenues or expenditures). Some bills are accompanied by amendments as well. The Bulletin of Proceedings (Wisconsin Documents) provides a subject index to all bills, as well as an index to enacted bills by affected sections of the Wisconsin Statutes. Other parts of the Bulletin of Proceedings contain brief descriptions of each bill, lists of sponsoring legislators, and dates of all significant action taken on each bill. Older bills, unavailable in the University Library, may be available from area law libraries, Milwaukee Public Library, or the State Historical Society Library and the LRB in Madison.
- Legislative Hotline (1-800-362-9472 or contact the Legislative Reference Bureau Research & Information Services Section online or by phone (608) 266-0341).
- The state Legislature maintains a hotline which can be called to request information on the status of legislation currently under consideration.
ADMINISTRATIVE RULES/REGULATIONSState statutes may assign authority to state administrative (or regulatory) agencies to implement and police portions of the statutes. These agencies are said to have "statutory authority" to promulgate rules and regulations necessary to carry out the statutes.
- Available in Wisconsin Documents or on the Internet, this title presents the rules and regulations of state administrative agencies currently in effect, arranged by agency. It is constantly updated. Each section is separated by a tab with an abbreviation for the agency name. A subject index is in the last binder.
- Available in Wisconsin Documents or on the Internet, this provides proposed changes or additions to the administrative code, and lists the time that must be given for public comment and legislative review before they are adopted. This bi-weekly publication includes notices of the times and locations of public hearings on proposed changes to agencies' regulations or rules, summaries of the proposed changes, lists of approved rules, and lists of "emergency rules" currently in effect (i.e., rules put into effect for a limited period of time without complying with the normal rule-making procedure because preserving the public health, welfare, safety or peace necessitates quick action). Each section is arranged by agency. Scan the Table of Contents of each issue to find sections containing action by a particular agency. Proposed changes to the administrative code are subject to review by the Legislature. Dates of legislative action taken on administrative agency proposals and a subject index to the proposals are available in the Bulletin of Proceedings (Wisconsin Documents or on the Internet).
AGENCY DESCRIPTIONSSee the Wisconsin Blue Book (current edition - Reference Desk JK6074.A35 or Internet) for brief descriptions, or consult the library's online catalog for publications such as annual or biennial reports from agencies that may describe their activities. Many state agencies also have webpages as well - see Wisconsin.gov or its List of State Agencies to find agency websites.
CASE LAWTo find court cases, see the library guide American Digest System: Finding Court Cases. Wisconsin court cases are printed in West's North Western Reporter and indexed by legal topics and party names in West's North Western Digest (Ref Law Collection KF135.N7). Pinney's volume 1 (1839) through volume 257 (May 1957) of Wisconsin Reports is shelved in the Wisconsin Documents Collection. Lists of Wisconsin courts are available as an appendix to the Wisconsin Statutes or in the Wisconsin Blue Book. Wisconsin appellate court cases also are available in two legal research databases:
- State Case Law: Wisconsin (LexisNexis Academic) -
- Campus Research (Westlaw) -
- Click on GO at the bottom of the Agreement with "I Agree" selected. In Westlaw Campus most cited cases can be displayed by clicking on the name of the case.
FURTHER INFORMATIONFurther information about researching Wisconsin law is available in publications such as Legal Research in Wisconsin (Ref Desk KFW2475.D36x) and Ask the LRB (Wisconsin Documents LEG 2.6/2:A 84/), Guide to Researching Wisconsin Legislation, How a Bill Becomes Law, The Legislative Process in Wisconsin, or from the Reference librarians.
Last revised: BRB - August 10, 2007