Pennsylvania Research: Primary Sources - Legislative and Administrative Materials

Statutory Materials

Pennsylvania's legislature, the General Assembly, follows the standard two chamber format. The legislative term lasts for two years with all unenacted legislation dying at the end of this two year period. The Pennsylvania Manual lists the members of the General Assembly and reports some general information on the workings of this body. The General Assembly website is another source for this information.


Bills can be sponsored in both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature with both the House and Senate numbering their bills sequentially throughout the two-year term. Each bill is also given a printer's number in the upper right corner of the first page. The printer's number allows one to keep track of the differing versions of a bill as it works its way through the legislative process. Thus there may be three different versions of House bill 200 with the versions assigned printers numbers 230, 450, and 1378. The highest printer's number for a bill will be the most current version of that bill. In Pennsylvania starting with 1969 bills are now published electronically on the legislature website.

Up until 1999 the state printer published a combination index/status table for bills. This publication is entitled A History of House and Senate Bills. There is a section listing each bill along with the names of the sponsors and a list of printer's numbers for each version of the bill. This section also details each stage of the legislative process the bill has progressed through. The other major component of the History is a subject index for all bills and resolutions. All of the information that was contained in this publication back to 1969 can now be retrieved from the General Assembly website listed above by using the "bill history" feature which appears once you have selected a bill.


The current Pennsylvania constitution dates from 1873, although it has been amended several times in the intervening years. An annotated copy of the constitution can be found in the first three volumes of Purdon's Statutes, the commercial codification of Pennsylvania legislation. Previous constitutions date from 1776, 1790, and 1838. Among other places, they can be found together in a small book published for the 1967-68 constitutional convention titled Constitutions of Pennsylvania. The debates of the various constitutional conventions exist as separate multi-volume sets.

Session Laws

The Laws of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the "pamphlet laws," is the annual compilation of state acts arranged in chronological order by date of passage. Early compilations of session laws are sometimes referred to by the name of the compiler. Two often cited Pennsylvania compilations which include laws from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are Smith's Laws and Dallas' Laws. Every year either one or two volumes are published, depending on the amount of legislation passed. In the back of the last volume for each year one can find a simple subject index. Since the 1960's the bill number that was assigned to the legislation before passage has been printed at the top of the first page of each statute. The bill number is important in researching legislative history. The prime use for the session laws is in reconstructing the text of a statute at any point in time. By starting with an original enactment and cutting and pasting additions, amendments, and deletions one can determine the actual language in effect at any chronological point. Also included in these volumes are appropriation acts, veto messages, and reorganization plans. The Pennsylvania Legislative Reference Bureau has begun a project to reproduce the text of the session laws on their website, . At this point in time they have legislation dating from 1682 up to the early 19th Century but intend to eventually include everything.


The process of creating a consolidated statutory code that has been going on in Pennsylvania for the past thirty years has created much confusion. Before this all started, the legal researcher consulted the unofficial commercial codification of Pennsylvania statutes, Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes, for any statutory questions and double-checked the text in the session laws which were the positive law source. At some point in the late 1960's the state decided that things would be easier if a codification, rather than the Laws of Pennsylvania, were the positive law source. Thus the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes was born. In planning this, someone decided that the arrangement Purdon's used in organizing the statutes would not suit the purposes of the new official codification so a new arrangement was proposed. The publisher of Purdon's, West Group, agreed to republish titles in Purdon's to reflect the new official arrangement as the state released the titles in the Consolidated Statutes. Everything would have worked out fine if the state could have published the Consolidated Statutes overnight, but of course they didn't. Thirty five years later only about two-thirds of the state statutes have been published in the Consolidated Statutes. Because of this, Purdon's is a hybrid reflecting two different organizational schemes. In several instances there are two different groups of statutes sharing the same title number, one is consolidated while the other is from the original Purdon's scheme. This situation arises when the State publishes a consolidated title but hasn't done anything with the material occupying the same title number in the Purdon's scheme.
The advantage of using a codification is the arrangement of all statutes on the same subject together and the constant replacement and removal of text as changes are made. Purdon's adds to this the inclusion of annotations to court decisions interpreting the statute, references to state and national legal encyclopedias, citations to law review articles on the same subject, cross references to statutes in the same area, and recently they have been including citations to the state administrative code.
Access to the set is through a two volume paperback index located at the end of the set which is replaced annually around the time that the pocket supplements to the whole set are replaced. These supplements generally contain the text of new statutes, amendments, notices of repealed statutes, and annotations to cases handed down since the hardbound volume was last published. When the pocket parts reach a certain thickness the publisher starts issuing them in a pamphlet form which then sit on the shelf next to the hardcover volume. Throughout the year Purdon's Legislative Service is published in pamphlet form. It serves to update the Purdon's pocket parts by reprinting the text of recently passed legislation in session law format and recently adopted court rules. The number of pamphlets published by this service is dependent upon the amount of legislation passed in a given year, but usually a pamphlet is published every two to three months. The Legislative Service pamphlets are not cumulative throughout the year, but the indexes in the back of each pamphlet are. Therefore the researcher only needs to consult the index in the most recent pamphlet to access information published in all. Another tool for use with Purdon's is the Cumulative Interim Update which again updates the pocket parts by providing statutory text and annotations which have come down since the last publication. This tool is issued in October and February of each year. To use it you just look up the title and section number of your statute and any new text or annotations will be listed.
There are a couple of tricky situations the researcher runs into when using Purdon's. Very often when reading cases from the 1970's or older citations to titles 12, 17, and 19 will be found. For several decades these titles contained statutes covering procedural and jurisdictional matters and were thus cited to in thousands of decisions. In the late 1970's these titles were repealed and much of this material was recodified and placed in title 42. Title 42 of Purdon's is confusing in itself because it contains statutory material concerning judicial matters, rules of evidence, the rules of civil, criminal, appellate, and magistrates procedure, and the Code of Professional Responsibility. In the organizational scheme used in the Consolidated Statutes title 12 now contains commerce and trade statutes and title 17 houses acts relating to credit unions, while title 19 is not currently used.
Another problem that sometimes comes up relates to the renumbering of sections of a given title. Many of the titles in Purdon's have been rearranged at least once. To lead the researcher from the old section numbers to the new ones, disposition tables are published in the front of the hardbound volumes or if a limited number of sections are affected the table is sometimes inserted at the beginning of a chapter or similar grouping. In some titles the disposition table is only published in the first volume of that title. Recently a Master Disposition Table pamphlet has been published that collects all this information into one source.
There may be times when you need to convert a session law citation into a Purdon's citation. The volumes labeled "tables", towards the end of the set, will allow you to do this. You must first look up your session law by date in the left hand column. Then locate the page or PL number where the statute begins. Each section listed will have a corresponding Purdon's citation in the right hand column.
An easy way to find a statutory definition for a term is to alphabetically go to the entry in the index labeled "words and phrases". There you will find listings for every term defined by a statute in Purdon's. Also, if you have a popular name of a Pennsylvania statute, the last of the paperback indexes contains a popular name table to provide the citation.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that several textual omissions have been discovered over the years in Purdon's, and some have been substantial. The publisher has made corrections in a diligent manner after these errors were pointed out but I believe it is prudent for the researcher to check the Consolidated Statutes or the Laws of Pennsylvania before citing statutory language.

Legislative History

Many of the types of documents that are available for compiling a complete legislative history on the federal level are just not available in Pennsylvania. Hearings are not published and in most situations committee reports are not distributed. Some legislative committees will keep elaborate office files including committee reports, others will give copies of the reports to the state archives, and still others will throw everything away. In the past a few committee reports have been published as an appendix to the legislative journals but this has been rare.
Thus, in most instances the researcher has no option but to look at floor debate from the House and Senate. This is published in both the House Legislative Journal and the Senate Legislative Journal. These publications contain annual indexes, but there is an easier way to access the debate published within. During the course of past legislative terms the state published an index to state bills called A History of House and Senate Bills. Under the entry for each bill is a calendar detailing the progress of the bill by indicating which committees have dealt with the bill and the results of any floor votes. If any debate has been published in the Journals an indication of this will be noted by the statement, "remarks see (House or Senate)Legislative Journal page xx, date". The key to working with this method is knowing the bill number assigned to your legislation before it was enacted. Since the 1960's the bill numbers have been published along with each piece of legislation in the Laws of Pennsylvania. Before this point, one must use the subject index to bills in the History of House and Senate Bills to try and locate the bill number. Starting in 1999 the Commonwealth is no longer publishing A History of House and Senate Bills in a paper version. However, the same calendar and "remarks" information can be retrieved from the General Assembly's website. You need to select a bill, retrieve the preliminary screen for that bill, and click on the bill history link.

Administrative Regulations

The publication of regulations by the various Commonwealth agencies is a relatively new endeavor. While a futile attempt to codify and publish all the Pennsylvania administrative regulations was started in 1946, it was never completed. It was not until 1970, with the publication of the Pennsylvania Bulletin that these important legal materials were available in a convenient form.
The Pennsylvania Bulletin is a weekly publication containing proposed and new administrative regulations, legal notices, executive documents from the Governor's office, new court rules from both trial and appellate courts, Attorney General opinions, and a listing of recently passed legislation giving both bill and printer's numbers. A new volume starts at the beginning of each year and the volumes are continuously paginated through the year. Regulations are organized by the title and section numbers assigned to them in the Pennsylvania Code, the state's official codification of regulations. In most instances new regulations are preceded in the Pennsylvania Bulletin by an agency policy statement giving some information and history regarding the promulgation of this new regulation. An index with both subject and agency entries is published in most years in the issue immediately following the end of each quarter. These indexes are cumulative for the year with the annual index published in the first issue in January of the following year. The Pennsylvania Bulletin going back to 1996 is available on the Internet at
The Pennsylvania Code is primarily composed of administrative regulations, but also contains various court and legislative rules and a selection of municipal home rule charters. It is organized by title and section numbers and is published in looseleaf format. It contains all permanent regulations from all Pennsylvania agencies.
The set contains several finding aids including a master index at the end of the set and more detailed indexes at the end of each title. The volume labeled "finding aids" includes a list of all the state administrative agencies and where their regulations are published in the set. It also contains an authority table listing all the Pennsylvania statutes which authorize agencies to make regulations and indicating where those regulations can be found. Each regulation or group of regulations will contain a source note revealing the Pennsylvania Bulletin citation where the regulation was first published. Authority notes are also included indicating the statutory authority for each group of regulations.
The set does contain case annotations for those regulations interpreted by the courts. Other than checking the annotations to the statute authorizing a regulation or trying a LEXIS or WESTLAW search, these annotations will be the major source for cases interpreting regulations as Shepards does not provide a citator for the Pennsylvania Code.
The fact that replacement pages to be interfiled in the set arrive monthly along with the Commonwealth mandate that each title be updated at least once a year insure that the set is timely. One can determine exactly how up to date each title is by going to the front of the title and checking for a page labeled "transmittal sheet". One can be sure that the title is current up to this date. To update beyond this point one has to go back to the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Each issue of the Bulletin contains a list of Pennsylvania Code chapters affected which is cumulative for the year. By looking up the Pennsylvania Code citation up in this table in the most recent issue of the Bulletin, one can see if any changes have occurred since the date on the transmittal sheet. The only problem with this list is that it indicates changes made to whole chapters of regulations, and is not as specific as individual sections. Some of the chapters in highly regulated areas may have changes every month thus providing a lot of citations to check. However, along with each quarterly index in the Bulletin there is also included a cumulative list of individual sections affected for the year. The Pennsylvania Code is available on the Internet at

Administrative Decisions

While a fair number of Pennsylvania agencies have adjudicatory powers, very few of them publish their decisions. Those that currently do are: the Public Utility Commission, the Environmental Hearing Board, the Department of Education (teacher tenure and special education opinions), the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the Workmen's Compensation Board of Appeals, and the Liquor Control Board. Some of these opinions are published by the state while others are published by commercial concerns, with the commercially published sets generally having better indexing and ease of use.

Attorney General Opinions

Prior to 1887 Pennsylvania Attorney General Opinions were not published or even generally distributed. Many of these early opinions have not survived. Since 1887 they have been compiled on an irregular basis into thin volumes and published by the state Justice Department. The most recent volume stops with opinions from 1992. Attorney General Opinions are also published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Occasionally an opinion is published on the Attorney General's website at . Several multi-year indexes have been published in this century, but the most recent ends in 1953.