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Statutory Research Basics

Understanding Statutes

Federal Steps of Publication

Back in the day, before the Internet, the people were advised about the creation and amendment of laws by their government through paper publications.  However, it takes an extraordinary amount of time for a law to be published after its enactment.  As such, there are three steps to the official publication of a law.

Remember - It’s the SAME LAW. It's language has not changed. 

  • Slip Laws: The FIRST publication of a new law after its passage.  As each slip law is passed by the legislature, the laws they pass are numbered and published consecutively, not alphabetically/numerically. For federal statutes, once Congress passes a bill into law and it goes into effect by signature of the President, the law is called a "Public Law," and is given its unique Public Law Number.
  • Session Laws: The SECOND publication of a law after its passage. This is the first publication in which the laws are published in a bound volume. They are published chronologically. Federal session laws are published in the Statutes at Large.
  • Codified Laws: The THIRD publication of a law after its passage.  This is the second publication of the law in a bound, print volume.  These laws are arranged topically and are each given numbers to locate them. The Code is the version of the law in effect at present, as it incorporates the language of the law when it was initially passed and the language of all subsequent amendments. Federal codified laws are published in the United States Code (U.S.C.)

New York Publication Process

  • Slip Laws: In New York, when a bill is passed into law and it goes into effect by signature of the Governor, the law is called a "chapter law," and it is assigned a unique "chapter" number. New York State generally does not publish its chapter laws separately, but you can find them online as they are enacted.
  • Session Laws: These are also called "chapter laws," and they are published in the volumes entitled “The Laws of New York.” Every law ever enacted by the New York Legislature is published in the Laws of New York chronologically in order of the date of its passage. These can be found online on the New York State Senate website.

    • The citation for a New York chapter law looks like this: 

      • L. 2006, c. 677 (2006). The "L." stands for "Laws of New York;" "2006" stands for the year of the legislative session, "c." stands for chapter number; "677" designates the consecutive number of passage (this was the 677th law passed that session); and 2006 indicates the year of passage.

  • New York Code: The laws of the New York State as arranged and printed by subject are called the “Consolidated Laws of New York." There is no official code. However there are two different Authoritative versions. 
    • New York Consolidated Laws Service (C.L.S.) (Lexis)
    • McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated (Westlaw)   


All statutes are primary sources of law however they are not all Authoritative sources. 

  • Which Types of Published Laws are Authoritative Sources?
    • A slip law remains the authoritative publication until the session law is printed.  Once the session law is printed, most often, that is considered the authoritative version of the statute.  If there is any difference in the language of the statute as found in the Session Laws from the language as printed in the Code, the Session Laws trump. 
    • For a more detailed explanation and the how and why of this, click to view this blog post from the Library of Congress: When There is a Difference Between the U.S. Code and the Statutes at Large, the Statutes at Large Controls.
  • Which Type of Published Statutes are the Official Sources?
    • You should check each jurisdiction to determine which is the "official" version of each statute to which you should cite, as the official version varies by jurisdiction. Additionally, it is important to ensure you are looking at the controlling law in your jurisdiction. If you want to know the law in New York you don't want to use California's Code.

Legislative Process

For information about how a bill becomes a law see the diagram below or follow the following links for more information.

Infographic of Legislative Process. Video of information available at first link above