Published on September 28, 2020 by Ed Craig, Reference Librarian
When looking for the written law of a particular state, a typical first stop will likely be to that state’s statutory code (such as the Code of Alabama 1975). The next step likely will be to find interpretations of that statute in the state’s reported decisions. But there may be quite a bit more...where? That state’s administrative code, such as the Alabama Administrative Code! Why have such a publication? Why not include everything in the statutory code? The reason boils down to the structure of American law itself; on both the state and federal levels, the legislative branch (in cooperation with the executive branch) chooses to create through statutory law various agencies which are assigned administrative responsibilities on a particular topic giving that agency the ability to create and enforce rules and regulations within the parameters defined by the enabling legislation. These agencies are created for the purpose of developing government expertise (which Congress or the state legislature do not have the time nor the talents to accomplish) about a topic so that it can create and enforce intelligent, pertinent, up-to-date rules and regulations about its intended subject area.
A good example of agency rule making and enforcement on the federal level is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). No one would seriously want to fly on an airliner without the regulatory oversight that the FAA provides. The FAA determines such issues as the maximum age of commercial pilots. This same agency regulates airspace and determines the safety of aircraft. The FAA stepped in when an air traffic controller’s child was permitted to direct air traffic at New York’s JFK Airport for a short time, suspending the controller and his supervisor.
On the state level, if a researcher wants to know what the local school system’s responsibility is with respect to special education, you can find it addressed in the Alabama Administrative Code in the regulations of the Alabama Department of Education with a chapter dealing with “Special Education Services.”  If you wanted to find out an Alabama nursing home’s responsibilities to Medicaid recipients, you would find them in the Alabama Medicaid Agency’s long term care regulations beginning at chapter 560-x-10 of the Alabama Administrative Code.
Where can you find the state administrative codes? Beeson Law Library has the print version of the Alabama Administrative Code on shelf 102. Both Westlaw Edge and LEXIS+ have databases for almost all of the 50 state administrative codes–Alabama is included in both of them. At the Westlaw Edge home screen, click “regulations” and on the resulting screen, choose the state in which you want to find administrative regulations; from there do a universal search of that state’s regulations or choose an agency or department in order to narrow your search. For LEXIS+, choose the “state” tab, then the state needed; the resulting screen will allow you to scroll down to “administrative materials, codes and regulations”– at that point, you can choose that state’s administrative code title.
When searching using an administrative code, it is vitally important to check that the administrative regulations that you are searching for are up-to-date. As of the date of this writing, I found that neither the LEXIS nor the Westlaw version of the Alabama Administrative Code was as up-to-date as the state’s Legislative Services Agency version found online.
Of course, in time, this situation may change.
If you have any questions about researching federal or state administrative law, please see a reference librarian at the Beeson Law Library.
See Ala. Admin. Code r. 290-8-9.00 (2020).