What is a Governor's Bill Jacket?
The Governor's Bill Jacket is the official name for the
legislative history of an individual Chapter Law in New York
State. Each year approximately 900 new Chapter Laws are enacted
and then signed into law by the Governor. The Governor's office
takes material that is received for each bill that is passed and
puts it in a "jacket," as the file is called.
Usually the most relevant item in the Bill Jacket is the
Sponsor's Memo. Since the Sponsor's Memoes are written before the
bill is passed, they are the most important in determining
legislative intent. The average memo runs about 2 pages, but may
be much longer, as the bill merits. The Governor at times will
submit a memorandum for legislation introduced at his request
(called a Governor's Program Bill) or for legislation of unusual
importance. His opinion is also most valuable. A memo may be
released upon signing of a bill, which is called a Governor's
Approval Memo. (If a bill that is sent to the Governor is vetoed
by him, a veto memo is issued, and all relevant materials are
combined into a Veto Jacket.)
Each year, all Sponsor's Memoranda are compiled into a great
research reference book, The New York State Legislative Annual, the only reference book published on
legislative intent for New York State law.
What else is in the Bill Jacket?
Frequently, the Governor will solicit opinions from any State
agency that may be able to give enlightened comment, such as the
Attorney General's Office or the Department of Labor. Their
responses are quite informative and generally prepared by legal
counsel. Legislative Committees of various Bar Associations may
also submit memos.
When a trade organization is concerned with a bill, it can
generate a flurry of letters to the Governor, pro or con. This
can add a lot of paper to the bill jacket and these
letters tend to be repetitive, as they generally mirror the trade
association's position, but as a whole, they indicate a solid
area of concern and do make a point.
Often private citizens will write to the Governor regarding a
bill that concerns them and these letters are also included in
the jacket. These opinions can be varied and sometimes extreme,
and while they represent only one persons opinion, they are
generally very close to the issue.
Is there anything else that would show legislative intent?
Additional sources of information are debate transcripts on
the bill from the Senate or Assembly floor; these are very
useful, but they are rarely contained in the Bill Jacket due to
their length. Sometimes, references will be made to Committee or
Commission Reports, such as those published by the Law Revision
Commission or the Judicial Conference. Another example, the
Research Outline Analysis Reports of the Joint Legislative
Committee to Study Revision of Corporation Laws, are a great
addition to any history on the Business Corporation Law. They are
never put in the official Bill Jacket, and must be
What does NY Legislative Service, Inc. have to do with all of this?
New York Legislative Service provides the original Bill
Jacket plus additional useful material. You can usually
obtain documents immediately! If you want to be completely
prepared, the research specialists at New York Legislative
Service are the people to call.
New York Legislative Service begins collecting important,
relevant memoes, reports, hearing transcripts and articles as
soon as a bill is identified as being important. This file is
available months before the official Governor's Bill Jacket is
Once the Governor's office has compiled the official Bill
Jackets, the researchers at NYLS compare their files with the
Governor's and add everything that the Governor does not have.
(All pages added by NYLS are marked as such.) The Governor's
office rarely puts commission reports into the Bill Jacket, even
though they are mentioned, nor hearing transcripts, newspaper
articles, or prior versions of memoes. Memoes of Bar Associations
are also frequently omitted.
Senate and Assembly debate transcripts are not included in the Governor's Bill Jacket
either, so New York Legislative Service obtains them and makes
them available as an option when requesting the
When you need complete history on a Chapter Law, THE ONLY
SOURCE is New York Legislative Service.
What if a section of law has 30, 60, or more(!) Chapter Laws listed in the historical notes?
This means that the section has been amended many times.
Determining which Chapter Law is the amendment(s) that you are
concerned with can be impossible. It requires reading through the
original bill text for each Chapter Law until the pertinent
language in the law that you are looking for is found. Only
someone like the researchers at New York Legislative Service who
work with legislative histories every day and have the in-house
resources can make this determination readily.
For what years are Bill Jackets available?
New York State's collection of Bill Jackets begins with 1905,
then skips to 1921 and continues to the present. Custodians of
the collection have no explanation for the gap between 1905 and
1921, although they speculate that these years were destroyed
decades ago by fire or flood. Historic photos also seem to
indicate that some of these missing histories could have been
zealously donated to World War II paper drives! Although an
official Bill Jacket may not exist, sometimes material can be
found. An example of this is the Insurance Law, which has
extensive archival material that can be located by the research
staff of New York Legislative Service, Inc.