Published on February 28, 2022 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 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. 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? Both Westlaw and Lexis both have databases for almost all of the 50 state administrative codes–Alabama is included in both of them. At the initial search screen of Westlaw Edge, if you click on “state materials” near the top center of the opening screen, you will be presented with a list of states, including Alabama. After clicking on Alabama, you will be shown a longer list of headings and their databases—find “Alabama Regulations” under the heading of “Regulations.” From the Lexis home screen, click on “administrative codes” and choose “Alabama” at the resulting screen. After making this choice, you will be able to choose “AL-Alabama Administrative Code” database. With both Lexis and Westlaw, clicking on the database name will lead to a skeletal outlay of the different state agencies’ regulations which are included in the code itself. Additionally, you are able to perform a term search of Alabama’s Administrative Code database at the top of the screen for either Lexis or Westlaw’s version.
Additionally, the Alabama Legislative Services Agency has the administrative code on their website at alabamaadministrativecode.state.al.us. Unfortunately, their database does not allow for text searching of the code.
Of the three services mentioned, the one available by Alabama LSA can be trusted as the most current. That agency provides updates to Westlaw and Lexis, but there are no guarantees that the two commercial services immediately load them. At the time of this writing, Lexis indicated a latest update of October 31, 2021 while Westlaw provided a date of October 29, 2021—a three month lag. Having contacted a representative at LSA, I established that there were later updates for publication after those dates. From these findings, I would suggest that if you know the section of the Alabama Administrative Code needed, you go directly to the free Alabama Legislative Services Agency website to find it. If you need to text search the code to try and find an appropriate code section, try either Lexis or Westlaw and confirm its status by going back to the Alabama LSA website’s version.
If you have any questions about researching federal or state administrative law, please see a reference librarian at Beeson Law Library.
See Ala. Admin. Code r. 290-8-9 (2022).