U.S. Legislative History Research Guide
The collection of documents produced by Congress during the enactment of a law comprises the legislative history of that law and is often valuable in determining the legislative intent of the statute. Opinions of the U. S. Supreme Court involving a federal statute often contain some reference to the legislative history.
The enactment of a law is initiated by the introduction of a proposal in the form of a bill or resolution. Numbers are assigned serially to bills and resolutions as they are presented in the houses of Congress. If a bill is not passed by the end of the second session of a congress, it must be re-introduced in the next Congress and given a new number if action is desired.
Compiled Legislative Histories
U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) (KF48 .W45): A valuable starting point for both current and past legislation, USCCAN supplies, in one place, federal legislative histories in the form of major congressional committee reports, court rules as amended and administrative rules and regulations. This is not a complete legislative history. USCCAN can be supplemented with hearings and other information from the Congressional Information Services indexes. USCCAN is available from 1941 to date in the US Documents section and from 1975 to date in the reference area, and is also on Westlaw from 1948.
Information Handling Services legislative histories microfiche program provides legislative histories for major legislation from 1951 to 1970. These are very complete, from hearings to enforcing regulations. The microfiche are filed by public law number in the microfiche room.
Congressional Information Service Index/Abstracts (US Docs Index KF49 .C62): Provides access to the complete working papers of Congress, including hearings, reports, committee prints, presidential documents and statements, and references to the Congressional Record. In addition, CIS compiles a complete legislative history for every public law passed during the year. These are arranged by public law number at the end of each annual abstract volume through 1983 and in a separate volume from 1984 forward. The documents are available on microfiche and may be accessed by CIS abstract number from 1970 – 81.
Bibliographies of Legislative Histories
Federal Legislative Histories : an Annotated Bibliography and Index to Officially Published Sources 1994, compiled by Bernard D. Reams, Jr. (Ref KF42.2 1994)
Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories (Ref. KF42. 2 1979): Compiled by Nancy Johnson, this loose-leaf indexes major treatises and periodical articles as well as the Congressional Information Service Index and the IHS Legislative Histories Indexed Guide. The laws are indexed by title and arranged by statute and public law number. This is an excellent starting point for retrospective legislative histories. This source is not comprehensive.
Union List of Legislative Histories : 47th Congress, 1881 ..., compiled by LLSDC (US Doc Index KF49 .U64)
Introduction of bills and resolutions are entered in the Congressional Record and the text of some of the more important bills is printed in original or amended form. The Congressional Record from 1984-present plus indexes from 1876-present are located at the government document section (X/a:vol./no). All earlier volumes and indexes are available on microfiche. The Congressional Globe, Annals of Congress and the Journals of the Continental Congress are also available on microfiche.
Researching legislative histories also involves being aware of any pending legislation that may affect the act being researched. The Law Library has many resources to help with finding current legislation.
Congressional Record, X/a:vol./no: This is the primary source for the text of the floor debates and the official source for recorded votes. The "Daily Digest" section includes a summary of action in each chamber, dates of committee hearings, bills signed, and committee meetings scheduled for the following day. Indexes are issued twice monthly.
The Congressional Index, (KF49.C65 W43) issued weekly while Congress is in session, is a CCH looseleaf service that reports the status of all pending legislation. There are indexes by subject, sponsor, and companion and identical bill number. Congressional action on reorganization plans, treaties, and nominations is indicated. The count on roll call and recorded teller votes is given by party, with a list of members who did not vote with the majority of their party. Measures enacted are indexed by public law number, bill number, subject, and sponsor, and there is a chronological list of measures vetoed. A chronological list of hearings held by each committee indicates whether the transcript has been printed.
Calendar of the U. S. House of Representatives and History of Legislation is received weekly while the House is in session (Y1. 2/2:Congress). The Calendar indexes both House and Senate bills under active consideration. Each issue is cumulative. It is arranged by bill number and records all action taken.
At times, information is needed on legislation so current that the facts needed are not yet available in any printed source. Online, the US Senate provides an index with hyperlinks to each committee's internet site. Committee sites typically provide a variety of information, including members names, websites, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. The Clerk of the House of Representatives provides similar information and links to House committees.
The Office of Legislative Information on Capitol Hill will respond to telephone inquires on the status of any given piece of legislation; what bills have been introduced by any given member of Congress, or what bills have been introduced on any given subject. The number is (202) 225-1772.
Soon after any bill is passed into law, it will be included in the supplements for U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News, Uninted States Code Annotated and United States Code Service with references to any previous related legislation.
Bills and resolutions, as introduced, are received in microfiche from the U.S. Government Printing Office. The microfiche are filed by Congress and by SuDoc number within Congress in microfiche room. A hardcopy index to this collection is located on top of the microfiche cabinet.
Library of Congress Online is produced by the Library of Congress Congressional Legislative Research division. The library of Congress catalog is a place to go to find out if a document even exists.
Thomas is very good for legislative tracking. Thomas provides:
- Bill Summary & Status for the 93rd –current congress
- Bill Text for the 101st –current congress
- Public Laws for the 93rd –current congress
- Text Search for the 101st –current congress
- Index for the 104th – current congress
- Roll Call Votes for the 101st – current congress
- Committee Reports for the 104th –current congress
GovTrack.us is a free website that gives the user the ability to set up monitors to track legislative bills.
GPO Access contains Congressional Record Index and History of Bills and Resolutions from 1983 forward, bill texts from 1993 forward, the Congressional Record from 1994 forward, committee reports, and House and Senate documents from 1995 forward, selected committee prints from 1997 forward, and even some congressional committee hearings from recent congresses.
HeinOnline Federal Legislative History Library is derived from the looseleaf publication Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books by Nancy P. Johnson, Law Librarian and Professor of Law Georgia State University College of Law. All compilations for major laws are included in the database with the following exceptions: appropriations measures; ceremonial matters; laws that extend the life of an agency or authority; and laws that affect small numbers of persons or specific regions of the country. The sources for these compilations include congressional documents, legal periodicals, treatises and looseleaf services.
ProQuest Congressional provides the following resources: CIS Index from 1970 to the present, congressional Indexes from 1789 to 1969, full text of congressional reports, documents, prints, bills and the Congressional Record, Prepared statements and selected question & answer transcripts from 1988 to present, bill tracking reports following bills through Congress, public laws, statutes at large, the United States Code Service, the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations, biographical and financial information about members of Congress, voting records, rosters and charters and schedules for committees and subcommittees. This resource is limited to use on the Washburn University campus, or by Washburn faculty, staff, and students off campus.
ProQuest Legislative Insight provides legislative histories for acts dating back to the 11th Congress.
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