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 obtained separately.

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 released.

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 Bill Jacket.

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.