Nov. 2, 2011 – The vastly improved web search platform for the Wisconsin Statutes became official recently, and its new features offer searchers an easier way to find state law. The site, developed by the Legislative Reference Bureau, improves accessibility, searching, browsing, linking, and RSS feeds. The old platform is currently still available, but will be phased out by the end of the year.
According to a press release issued in September:
The new search engine is easier to use, will present more results and works in a format that resembles prominent Internet search engines … The views of the statutes are also richer, allowing continuous scrolling through an easier to read interface and containing more hypertext links and more information about each statute section. PDF files on the site will also include hyperlinks.
Greater efficiency and additional references
The link on the homepage now reads “Legislative Documents” instead of “Searchable Infobases.” This rewording hints at the fundamental change of the move to a new HTML view from the old NXT view. Documents in the new view now contain links to associated material, and searchers have the ability to research the history of and the connections between statutes, legislation, and other materials. For example, a user can link from a history note for a statute to an underlying act and then in many instances, to full history of that act. Case references link to the Google Scholar version of the opinion. This seamless research is vastly more efficient than in the past and represents an exciting development in statutory research.
Even with the changes, searchers who have used the old site will be familiar with the “Table of Contents” view. Both the PDF and HTML versions are available and operate as before. If searchers click on the title of the statute, the HTML version opens and a user can scroll through the entire statute. Hovering on a statutory subsection brings up two small icons on the left, one being an arrow and the other, a magnifying glass. The subsection citation also appears in red as a link. The arrow opens a small box with links to the beginning of the statute, the beginning of the subchapter, and a complete list of all chapters. The magnifying glass links are particularly helpful if searchers would like a view of just the subsection, references to the subsection, establishing a permanent link and highlighting this section.
Another fresh addition is the ability to set up RSS feeds. This feature will allow users to monitor updates to a particular statute (or admin code section when available), as well as follow new proposals.
Ways to search
There are several options for searching. Whether by citation or key word, searching is very similar to popular Internet tools like Google. Users can reference a citation, either by drilling down and using the Table of Contents view already discussed or by simply typing the citation into the search box on the main page of the statutes. If searchers would like to find keywords, the search box again is also useful. Searching for a simple term like “canoe” resulted in a list of several statutory sections which all displayed the query word and some of the text surrounding it.
Advanced searching can be done with many common operators. Quote marks can be used to search exact phrases. Words can be subtracted from a search by adding a minus sign before the word you want to remove. This technique is helpful if too many hits are produced. The search also does “stemming,” which means that it will look for similar words for example, “history” but also “historical” and “historic.”
For those who like to approach by topic, the statutes index remains a handy tool especially to find issues on terms of art such as the “lemon laws.” A link to the topical index is on the statutes main page, but it can also be found at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/index/index/a/abstracts_of_title/_000001. Linking on a statute number within the index will take the searcher to the text of the exact subsection.
If users would like to comment on the platform, use the “Feedback” button next to the “Home” link at the top right. The Legislative Reference Bureau is very interested in learning more about the search experience and welcomes comment.
Also, in the next month the Legislature will update the web version of the Wisconsin Administrative Code in similar fashion. This development will, for the first time, make available a fully hyperlinked version of the Wisconsin Administrative Register.
About the author
Mary J. Koshollek is the director of Information and Records Services for Godfrey & Kahn, Milwaukee. She is responsible for library operations for all of Godfrey’s offices as well as the records/conflicts/dockets systems. Mary earned her J.D. from Marquette in 1993; she was a member of the Marquette Law Review and a Hicks Research Fellow.