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New York State Legal Research: Statutes

Quick Tips

The New York State Senate has produced an excellent guide explaining how a bill becomes a law. It can be accessed at the following location:  https://www.nysenate.gov/how-bill-becomes-law. For purposes of legal research, the keys to remember are that all legislation begin as bills. Once bills are enacted, they become chapter laws. At the end of every legislative session, chapter laws are collected into volumes called session laws. Eventually, session laws of a public and general nature are compiled into the state code.

Key Concepts

Understanding session law citations is an important skill, especially when it comes to legislative history. If using an annotated code, session law citations are often included in sections called credits or history. For example, Westlaw provides the following credits for Village Law § 14-1434:  

  • L.1972, c. 892, § 3; Amended L.1980, c. 388, § 23

This indicates that the statute was added in 1972 by chapter law 892, section 3. It was then amended in 1980 by chapter law 388, section 23.

Bills

Bills are individual pieces of legislation. They are essentially instructions on how to add or amend existing laws. There are many ways to locate bills.

Session Laws

If a bill passes both houses of the legislature and is signed by the governor (or, alternatively, if it is vetoed by the governor and subsequently overridden by a two-thirds majority vote of both houses), it is said to have been enacted. Enacted bills are known as chapter laws. At the end of every legislative session, chapter laws are collected into volumes called session laws. HeinOnline is highly recommended because it provides access to the earliest sessions.

Codes

Eventually, session laws of a permanent and general nature are compiled into a code. New York's state code is known as the Consolidated Laws of New York. However, New York has not published an official code since 1910. Instead, it has certified third-party providers to print commercial versions. These commercial versions contain many useful annotations (e.g., cases, regulations, and secondary sources) that can help facilitate research. But, you can also use a free code (i.e., unannotated) if you don't have access to a commercial version.

Annotated

Unannotated

Archaic Statutes

In the 19th century, researching statutes was a disorganized and haphazard affair. New York, like most other jurisdictions, published statutes sequentially as session laws. It was therefore difficult to locate statutes on a particular topic. In 1802, New York published its first codification, entitled the Laws of the State of New-York. This was a vast improvement over the existing system and was eventually replaced by the Revised Statutes of the State of New-York. Occasionally, the need to research archaic statutes arises. HeinOnline is highly recommended because it provides access to the earliest codifications.