The Bureau's History

Our Establishment

The Legislative Reference Bureau was established by the act of April 27, 1909 (P.L.208, No.143). It was reorganized as a legislative agency by the act of May 7, 1923 (P.L.158, No.119).

The Bureau was created for the use by the members of the General Assembly, the Governor, the heads of State agencies and, in certain cases, such citizens of the Commonwealth as desire to consult it. Speaking at the 15th Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in June 1909, Pennsylvania Attorney General M. Hampton Todd highlighted the establishment of the Bureau as marking an epoch in Pennsylvania’s social development.

In a message to the legislature on January 5, 1909, Governor Edwin S. Stuart remarked that it is unreasonable to expect that members of the General Assembly should be able to prepare bills upon every subject that may come before the Senate or House of Representatives. To provide the legislature with every reasonable assistance, Governor Stuart recommended the establishment of a legislative reference department.

Speaking at the 15th Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in June 1909, Pennsylvania Attorney General M. Hampton Todd highlighted the establishment of the Bureau as marking an epoch in Pennsylvania’s social development.

State Library and Museum Building - The Bureau's First Home

After establishment in 1909, the Bureau began operations in temporary office space located in the basement of the new Capitol Building, which had been dedicated on October 4, 1906. The basement quarters were inadequate in size, so the Bureau was moved to the second floor of the State Library and Museum Building. The date is unknown, but it was probably before the early 1920s. The exact location of the Bureau offices was the front of the building, in several offices that had been occupied by the Attorney General.

During its early years, museum exhibits lined the hallways and some of the rooms surrounding the Bureau. An early 1930s publication of The Book of the States described the Bureau’s accommodations as “covering approximately 2185 square feet…the space is adequate for office purposes…this lighting facilities are excellent but the heating and ventilation are very poor.” In the years that followed, the Bureau expanded into a few offices on the second floor, separated from each other by a large exhibit room that originally served as the Governor’s reception area before the Main Capitol was completed. The Bureau occupied these offices until the early 1960s.

Main Capitol Building - The Bureau's Second and Current Home

By 1965, the Bureau had relocated its offices to the fifth floor of the Main Capitol, on the Senate side of the building. The space had originally been occupied by the Department of Internal Affairs and Department of Highways, where engineers and other staff worked on maps rolled out on long drafting tables. The space was converted into offices for drafting attorneys, administrative personnel, transcribers and proofreaders and a law library. Eventually, the Bureau expanded down the hallway.

Additional space was obtained for editing and publishing of enacted statutes, a legislative citations unit, a legislative history unit and the Pennsylvania Code and Bulletin Office. The Bureau continues to occupy these offices. More than seventy employees of the Bureau work in these areas.

1923 Reorganization and Early Work of the Bureau

Originally a division of the State Library under Act 143 of 1909, the Bureau was reorganized as a legislative agency by the act of May 7, 1923 (P.L.158, No.119), which governs Bureau operations to this day. Under the 1923 reorganization, the director, instead of being appointed by the Governor, is appointed by the Senate and House of Representatives in joint session.

From its establishment in 1909 through the 1920s, the Bureau executed its statutory duty to aid in the legislative process by compiling and codifying the laws of Pennsylvania relating to taxation, insurance, business corporations, public assistance, marriage and divorce, boroughs and game. Enactment of these early codifications advanced the Bureau’s mission “to create systematic, logical and convenient arrangements of the laws as they now exist.” The Bureau’s dedication to fulfilling its statutory duties during its early years of operation prompted the Council of State Governments in its 1935-1936 edition of The Book of the States to characterize the Bureau as one of the leading legislative agencies in the country.

Technological Advances in Bill Drafting

The mechanical part of the bill drafting process has seen tremendous changes since 1909. Prior to computers, attorneys who drafted a bill needed to cut and paste existing law from printed books onto legal-sized pads of paper using sharp blades or scissors. A similar method was used for amendments to bills, resulting in bills with strips of paper sticking out of both sides.

Electric typewriters were a big innovation in the 1960s, followed by typewriters that stored text internally and printed it out on command. The Bureau signaled the Legislative Data Processing Center in the Capitol basement when a hard copy was needed. A pneumatic tube was then used to physically transmit the printed document from the basement to the Bureau offices on the fifth floor.

In the early 1980s, the Bureau’s filing system was so heavy that the concrete floor underneath it sank one-half inch. Director Cable changed the filing practice to eliminate the issue.

More than twenty years later a customized, computerized bill drafting system was implemented to vastly improve the efficiency of bill and amendment preparation. In addition, adopted amendments could be automatically engrossed into bills; this was a significant time-saving improvement.

The Bureau produces on average during a two-year legislative session more than 9,000 bill drafts, about half of which are introduced. It also prepares more than 10,000 amendments and in excess of 2,000 resolutions for the Senate and House of Representatives. The Bureau also writes and produces more than 30,000 citations every two years.

Notable Members

James N. Moore - First Bureau Director

The Bureau’s first director was James N. Moore (August 23, 1859 – October 19, 1930). After a short career as an attorney in Butler County, Moore was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives three times. He then served as clerk for two legislative sessions and, in 1907, was promoted to assistant chief clerk.

By gubernatorial appointment, Moore became director in 1909. A local newspaper nicknamed him “Mr. Information” and reported that:

“Among the members and people on the Hill there is no one whose word is more respected and who is personally better liked by men of every shade of political affiliation than James N. Moore.”

Harrisburg Telegraph (June 9, 1913)

During his tenure as director, Moore was a revered advisor. In the October 9, 1920, edition of the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia), Moore was called the “pooh-bah of Pennsylvania officialdom.” The newspaper then assessed his performance as follows:

“Before any bills are presented in House or Senate they are supposed to have passed under the rod of the director’s criticism. If they are plugged full of grammatical errors, “Jim” Moore putties up the holes. If they are obscure in phraseology he brushes away the cobwebs of confusion by simplifying the sentences. He is an official godsend to the dull, hesitant, unsophisticated legislators.”

October 9, 1920 edition of the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia)

Moore worked tirelessly at the Bureau for 21 years, until his death in 1930. On June 29, 1935, a photographic portrait of him was unveiled at the Bureau. John Fertig, Assistant Director, delivered appropriate remarks. Speaking about Moore’s dedication to the Bureau, Fertig said:

“The Bureau was to him more than just a place where he was employed. It was part of his very life. His daily presence was to him a public duty and he seemed happiest when occupying his accustomed chair before his desk.”

John Fertig - Assistant Director

James McKirdy - First Bureau Assistant Director

Pittsburgh attorney, James McKirdy, was appointed by the Governor to be the first assistant director of the Bureau in December 1909. He served in that capacity for five years.

McKirdy was a grammatical expert and able to read 12 languages. He also spoke fluent German. His vast knowledge and experience on the preparation of legislation was so revered that he was selected to address a congressional committee on the issue of legislative drafting and was the speaker at a national organization of State Librarians that met in Canada.

The Harrisburg Telegraph on January 3, 1911, described McKirdy as follows:

“The young man is a fine combination of legal mind and mental card index…He is said to be able to draft a bill in his sleep and to settle constitutional questions between soup and coffee at dinner.”

The Harrisburg Telegraph (January 3, 1911)

Irma A. Watts - First Reference Librarian and Cataloguer

Described as an “outstanding expert in legislative matters,” by a Harrisburg newspaper in a front-page article, Irma A. Watts was the Bureau’s first reference librarian. She was initially appointed by the Bureau’s first director, James N. Moore, and served the Bureau for 31 years.

Writing in the January 1917 issue of the Law Library Journal, Watts described the cataloging work of the Bureau as a unique and extensive system devised for cataloging general laws; digests; compilations of laws on specific subjects issued by the various states; reports of state departments; bills; discussions of laws in effect; rulings; model drafts; and proposed legislation. The legislative material to be cataloged came in the form of books, pamphlets, clippings from newspapers and magazines and other typewritten sources.

During her tenure, Watts managed the work of the Legislative Reference Library with the assistance of a full-time search clerk, augmented by three search clerks during sessions of the General Assembly. By 1935 the Bureau’s Legislative Reference Library contained more than 3,000 volumes, 1,500 which were devoted to law. The Library’s files included over 5,000 pamphlets, 1,500 clippings and 6,000 pieces of other typewritten material.

Active in many civic and professional organizations, Watts achieved national prominence, exemplified by her election to the presidency of the National Association of State Libraries. In addition to published works on legislative reference matters, Watts authored a booklet providing a walking tour of Harrisburg, a journal article, “Esther Town,” featuring a historical overview of Dauphin County’s second oldest town, and numerous articles in the magazine Motor Mention.

Currently, the Legislative Reference Library serves primarily as a reference library for legal research by Bureau counsel and responds to requests for legislative information from members of the General Assembly, legislative staff, other state agencies and the general public.

Hannestad at the Helm

The Bureau’s seventh director, S. Edward Hannestad, led the Bureau shortly after the conclusion of WWII. A native of Kailiili, Hawaii, Hannestad earned his Master of Law and Doctor of Law from Yale Law School. He returned to the Pacific island to practice law and served in the Tank Corps during WWI.

Hannestad began his tenure with the Bureau as a draftsman, working from 1915 until 1925 and again from 1931 until 1957, leaving shortly to practice law in Chester, Pennsylvania. He was appointed assistant director in 1939 and was elected director in 1947, a position he held until his retirement in 1957 after 36 years of service to the Bureau. Also known for his travels during his tenure at the Bureau, Hannestad enjoyed extended visits to Hawaii and Europe, corresponding with then-current and former employees of the Bureau during his trips.

Hannestad was a member of the Uniform Law Commission, serving as Chairman of the Legislative Drafting Committee. During his final year with the Bureau in 1957, Hannestad was selected to serve as counsel for the Pennsylvania Commission on Constitutional Revision, a workgroup leading to the 1967-68 Constitutional Convention. A concurrent resolution adopted by the legislature stated Hannestad’s “reputation as a legislative draftsman was nationwide” and described his knowledge of the laws of this Commonwealth as “encyclopedic.”

Glidden's Dedication - The Ghost of the Capitol

One of the Bureau’s most newsworthy directors, Burt R. Glidden was the subject of numerous articles throughout his years of service. Joining the Bureau in 1921 as a bill drafter, Glidden would remain with the Bureau until 1961, serving as chief compiler, assistant director and director. A resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for his entire adult life, Glidden’s children kicked off his news coverage when a September 22, 1936, article in The Evening Times published a photograph and article on his triplets, Tom, Dick and Harry, assisting their father in the office.

A bizarre anecdote about a Bureau employee from 1956, later identified by a former director of the Bureau as then-assistant director Burt R. Glidden, deserves special mention. According to the New Castle News, an employee of the Bureau made the Capitol Complex his home and was mistaken as a ghost prowling the building late at night.

Although not reported, there was a rational explanation for Glidden’s spectral presence. Glidden had been in an automobile accident from which he lost sight in one eye. As a result, he stopped driving to the Bureau from his home in Lancaster. His wife drove him into Harrisburg at the beginning of the work week where he stayed for the duration of the week. This arrangement meant Glidden slept at the Bureau several nights each week.