Preserving Legislative Digital Records

8/23/2022

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Overview

State legislatures are increasingly providing information online, giving citizens more efficient access to legislative materials. Documents are easily created, updated and distributed electronically. Ensuring that these documents are trustworthy, complete and accessible over time, however, is a critical challenge.

Although printed versions of legislative documents are still the official version in states, digital versions of statutes, administrative rules and other legal and legislative documents are gaining broad use in the legal and legislative community.

To provide guidance for the authentication and preservation of certain electronic legal materials, the Uniform Law Commission in July 2011 approved the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA).

Since then, 22 states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have adopted UELMA. Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia (see also introduced and enacted state legislation).

UELMA establishes an outcomes-based, technology-neutral approach for states to authenticate, preserve and provide permanent public access to official electronic legal materials.

Many state legislatures are now tackling the challenges of preserving legislative records, and several have led by providing options, advice and information about various tools and preservation practices.

State Legislative Initiatives

As states adopted UELMA, two states led the way in implementation and in documenting their methodology: Minnesota and California. The Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes published Prototype for Authentication of Official Electronic Record and Pricing (August 2012), which describes a software prototype built to satisfy the requirements of UELMA.

The California Office of Legislative Counsel developed a white paper, Authentication of Primary Legal Materials and Pricing Options, which reviews electronic authentication methods for legal and legislative materials. Six sample solutions are described and their relative costs are compared.

More recently, the Texas Legislative Council issued an Implementation Report for the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) in 2020 and an Implementation Plan for Publishing the Constitution of the State of Texas in Compliance with the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act in Feb. 2022. 

In Approaches to Authenticating Legal Materials Pursuant to the Uniform Electronic Materials Act, published in March 2022 by Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, author Benjamin J. Keele describes how several state publishers have chosen to fulfill UELMA’s requirements.

Iowa's adoption of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) in 2019 assigned the Legislative Services Agency the responsibility to designate as official specific electronic versions of editions of the Iowa Code, the Iowa Constitution, Iowa Acts and Joint Resolutions, the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, the Iowa Administrative Code, the Supplement to the Iowa Administrative Code, and the Iowa Court Rules.The Iowa Legislature's website provides information about these documents and the system of authentication used. 

Delaware's approach to implementation of UELMA includes authenticated PDFs for the Delaware Code, the Laws of Delaware, the Constitution of Delaware, and the Delaware Administrative Code of Regulations.

Collaborative Projects

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance of the Library of Congress was launched in July 2010 as an initiative of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. NCSL was a founding member of NDSA, which Congress charged with building the capacity for public and private organizations across the United States to save digital content of current and future value to the nation.

The Minnesota Historical Society's Center for Archival Resources On Legislatures (CAROL) is the final product of a collaborative project with several state legislatures and NCSL, related to the preservation of and access to digital legislative content. CAROL pulls together research information and other resources on pertinent topics, and the Final Report summarizes project activities.

NCSL held several conferences and meetings discussing digital preservation and implementation of UELMA. Legislative staff heard a California presentation and a Minnesota presentation about implementation of UELMA requirements. Similarly, in presentations at the NCSL Legislative Summit, representatives from the California and  Minnesota legislatures provided updates in UELMA: The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act Implementation in California and Minnesota. Additional information from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes in Minnesota was provided at an NCSL seminar.

The American Association of Law Libraries, which has endorsed UELMA, developed a white paper, Preservation of Electronic Legal Materials, to provide preservation strategies, tools and other assistance to states that have adopted or plan to adopt UELMA.

Additional Resources