Wisconsin Lawyer: Practice Tips: Using the Wisconsin Legislature Web Site:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In
    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search


    Practice Tips: Using the Wisconsin Legislature Web Site

    The Wisconsin Legislature generates thousands of documents, making it difficult to comb through every collection point to find needed information. using the legislature Web site can accelerate and narrow the search process.

    Amy Gannaway

    Share This:

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 77, No. 12, December 2004

    Using the Wisconsin Legislature Web Site

    The Wisconsin Legislature generates thousands of documents, making it difficult to comb through every collection point to find needed information. using the legislature Web site can accelerate and narrow the search process.


    Amy Gannaway com agannaway lathropclark Amy Gannaway is the firm librarian at Lathrop & Clark LLP, Madison, and a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin.

    by Amy Gannaway

    During the 2003-2004 biennial session of the Wisconsin Legislature, 998 bills were introduced in the state Assembly. The state Senate added another 569. While many of these bills never made it out of committee, the houses passed a combined total of 327 bills that were signed by the governor, making them law. How do busy legal researchers sift through all of these documents to find what they need?

    Legal researchers are interested not only in the state legislature's current activities but in its past sessions as well. A bill you thought was dead in 1999 was resurrected in 2003. How do you compare the 1999 and 2003 versions of the bill?

    Suppose you need to know how a particular statute read in 1993. One way to find out is to locate a print copy of the 1993 statutes and look it up. But suppose you then would like to quickly see how that statute has changed since 1993, and you don't have the time to locate the print copies of the five sets of statutes published since 1993, plus find out if anything has happened to the statute in the current biennial session.

    You can do all of this and more on the Wisconsin Legislature Web site, at www.legis.state.wi.us. You can locate copies of bills from the current and previous sessions. You can look up statutes and find out if any acts were passed that affected them. In fact, there is so much information available that using the Web site can seem daunting. This article will guide you on looking up and tracking legislative, statutory, and regulatory information, including bills, acts, statutes, and the Administrative Code, and on using the Wisconsin Legislature Web site.

    Retrieval by Proposal Number

    Probably the easiest and fastest thing to do on the Web site is to find copies of legislative documents. If you know the number of the proposal that you are interested in, whether it's an act, bill, resolution, or joint resolution, you can retrieve the proposal directly from the site's homepage. Use the form on the right-hand side of the page to search for the proposal you want. Data is available back to 1995. Searching for an act brings up its PDF file, while searching for a bill, resolution, or joint resolution links you to its history. Texts of bills and amendments are linked from the history page.

    Current and Previous Legislative Sessions

    You may not always know if any proposals are pending on your topic of interest. The site's "Legislative Activity" section, at www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/bienn.htm, is a good starting point for research on the legislature's current proposals and activities. (From the legislature homepage, click the "Legislative Activity" link in the box on the left-hand side of the page.) Follow the links under the "Bills and Resolutions" heading to search for bills, acts, and enrolled bills. In addition, check the Legislative Activity page for the current session calendar, the weekly committee schedule, and the daily floor calendar for the state Senate and Assembly. A subject index, prepared by librarians at the Legislative Reference Bureau, can be used like a print index or searched using a word or phrase.

    To search legislative proposals using a word or phrase, navigate to the "Folio Search" link at the bottom of the page. The "Folio" search page, folio.legis.state.wi.us, brings together the searchable databases of the site's different areas and sections. (More information on how to search Folio is covered in the sidebar below.) There are databases containing different elements of legislation from the current biennial session and previous sessions, including bill histories, bill text, amendments to bills, acts (including the governor's veto messages), and enrolled bills. Other databases also are available, such as subject indexes for acts and legislation, floor calendars, hearing schedules, and committee records. For the most part, the site covers legislative activities back to 1995, but there are some exceptions. For example, bill amendment text is available back to 1997, and enrolled bills are available back to 1999.

    Tracking Legislation

    When you know which proposal you are interested in, you can keep track of its status using the Wisconsin legislative notification service, a new service that permits you to easily track legislation by receiving email updates for specified legislative activities. To open an account, go to notify.legis.state.wi.us/Home.aspx. Users may track pending bills by bill number, author, committee, or subject. When you have set up an account, you will be notified via email when your specified proposal is acted upon. In addition to tracking current legislation, this service allows you to track new proposals by subject. Therefore, even if your initial search turns up empty, you can use this tracking service to monitor potential new proposals on your particular topic of interest.

    Finding Statutes, Acts, and the Administrative Code

    If your research includes examining statutes or regulations, check out the "Wisconsin Law" page, at www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/wislaw.htm. (From the legislature homepage, click the "Wisconsin Law" link in the box on the left-hand side of the page.) This page links you to statutes and acts, as well as to the Administrative Code and the Administrative Register.

    Statutes. Clicking the "Statutes" link takes you to the statutes page, where you will find both the current statutes and prior versions of the statutes dating back to 1989. The current versions of the statutes are updated as bills are passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, but be sure to take note of the last update. You can search the current statutes using Folio or browse the table of contents. Should your research require examining prior versions of a statute, scroll down to the bottom of the page and choose the appropriate year. For example, if you need to examine a statute from 1993, click on the 1993-94 Folio button to search that set of statutes. Another very useful part of the statutes page is the "Sections Affected by Acts" database, which contains all changes made to a particular statute during a legislative session and which is searchable back to the 1995 session. You can use the "Sections Affected by Acts" database to see if the 1993 statute has been changed.

    If you learn that your 1993 statute was changed by a more recent act, and you would like to view the more recent act, navigate back to the Wisconsin Law page and click on the "Acts" link. PDF copies of Wisconsin Acts are available from this page dating back to 1969 and are searchable via Folio back to 1995. You also will find the "Sections Affected by Acts" database, the governor's veto messages dating back to 1999, and subject indexes dating back to 1995.

    Administrative Code. You may want to check the Administrative Code for relevant regulatory sections. To shift into regulatory research, go back to the Wisconsin Law page and click the "Administrative Code and Register" link to get to the Administrative Code page. The Administrative Code is updated monthly (just like the print version). You can browse its table of contents or search it using Folio. This page also links you to lists of the governor's executive orders from 1987 to 2004.

    If you are interested in prior versions of a particular code section, you may use Folio to search the Administrative Register (dating back to 1996) and both active and inactive clearinghouse rules. These resources can give you some history on the regulation or subject that you are researching. In addition, final rule orders that have been filed with the revisor of statutes since March 1996 are available in PDF format, but they are not searchable via Folio, so you must know the correct clearinghouse rule number to access them. Final rule orders are clearinghouse rules in their final form. They provide summaries and analyses and show you what changes were made to regulations.

    You also can access electronic copies of clearinghouse rules and the Administrative Register (back to 1996) via links in the "History Notes." History notes detail changes to a particular code section and are published following that section. For code sections published with Administrative Register number 546 (dated July 1, 2001) and after, clearinghouse rules are linked directly from the history notes. But for code sections published before Administrative Register number 546, you must follow the link in the history notes to the relevant Administrative Register. From there you can link to a PDF copy of the clearinghouse rules (some may be unavailable). If you are looking for copies of pre-1996 code sections, you may request them from the Revisor of Statutes Bureau. The State Law Library also has print copies of prior code sections.

    Other Useful Links

    If you would like to continue exploring the legislature Web site, here are some short notes about other sections, as well as other sources of legislative information:

    Senate and Assembly: www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/sen.htm and www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/asm.htm. Provides links to Assembly and Senate homepages, the official and personal Web pages for individual representatives and senators, email directories, committee information, and live audio and video of the Senate and Assembly (when in session).

    Joint Committees: www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/jnt.htm. Lists all joint committees of the legislature and provides links to joint committee Web sites, including the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, Joint Committee on Audit, Joint Committee on Finance, and Joint Legislative Council.

    Service Agencies: www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/legserv.htm. Provides links to Web pages for the legislature's nonpartisan service agencies, including the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Legislative Reference Bureau, Legislative Technology Services Bureau, and Revisor of Statutes Bureau.

    Wisconsin Blue Book: www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/bb.htm. The Blue Book provides a great deal of information about Wisconsin, including biographies of elected officials; maps of Senate and Assembly districts; information on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and statistics. The current edition and the previous three editions are available online.

    Other Information: www.legis.state.wi.us/nav/info.htm. Provides some miscellaneous and statistical information, such as redistricting and 2000 census information, election statistics, a glossary, lobbyists, and links to other legislative sites.

    The Wheeler Report: www.thewheelerreport.com. Independent Web site that provides alternative access to some of the resources discussed in this article.


    The complex business of the Wisconsin Legislature generates many documents, and it is difficult to comb through everything to find needed information. Using the legislature Web site can make that process faster. It may take a little time to become familiar with the Web site, but the investment is worth it.