Since California became a state in 1850, the State Archives has served as the repository for many significant records relating to state laws and legislation. The State Archives is home to original bills signed into law by the Governor and chaptered by the Secretary of State, original bill proposals from the State Senate and State Assembly, opinions of the State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal, and bill files from legislators and legislative committees. Taken together, these records represent the legal foundation of state government and are frequently used by the courts, the legal community, state and local governments, and the public.

The Public Archives Act (PDF) created in 1850 established a public archives under the Secretary of State to ensure California's history would be preserved.

Today two laws are fundamental to the public’s right to access public records, the California Public Records Act (Government Code section 6250 et. seq.) (summary of the act prepared by the State Attorney General (PDF)) and the California Information Practices Act (Civil Code section 1798 et. seq.).

California's Replevin Law enables state and local government agencies to recover public records that are being held unlawfully and makes it illegal for private parties to possess state or local government records.