See also related handout:

Introduction

The term “legislative history” refers to documents generated as a bill works its way through the legislative process. Even bills not enacted into law may have a legislative history. The number and kinds of documents varies greatly and may include the text of the bill (including introduced, amended, and reported versions); conference reports; committee reports; House and Senate debate; statements made by sponsors; committee hearings, prints, and documents; presidential signing statements; reports from congressional agencies (such as the Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office); news coverage; and post-enactment analysis. Finally, relevant documents might include all of these materials on related bills from past or current congressional sessions. 

Historically, there has been no single comprehensive source for legislative history documents. Which source you used depended on the type of materials you were looking for, the age of the materials, and what format you required. While this is still true today, you will find that the Proquest Congressional database comes close to being a comprehensive source for legislative history research and documents. Congress.gov (replacing Thomas) is a free legislative information resource provided by the Library of Congress.  

Compiled Legislative Histories

Congressional committees and private publishers often compile histories for specific acts by collecting relevant documents and publishing them together. The documents included can vary; many are included at the discretion of the compiler.  

  •  HeinOnline: U.S. Federal Legislative History Library
  • Proquest/Congressional Information Service (CIS) Legislative Histories
    • Proquest Legislative Insight: PDFs of full-text legislative histories of passed legislation (1789-2012).  Coverage includes more than 27,000 laws (major laws and select additional laws), including CIS histories 1970-2010.  Patrons should use the Proquest Congressional database for comprehensive coverage of congressional documents, including those not included as part of a compiled legislative history.
    • Proquest Congressional: Online legislative histories derived from the CIS Index. Most have links to full-text. Searchable by keyword. Coverage is 91st Congress (1969) to present. Documents not in full-text are available in the Law Library Microfiche Room, First Floor, Cabinets 1-9.
    • CIS Index: Print Index for these legislative histories (1971-2000). Law Library First Floor, Range 106.
  • United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN): Law Library First Floor Federal materials, Range 102, call number KF 48.w 45. Coverage 1944 to present.
  • WestlawNext
    • GAO Legislative Histories Coverage 1915-1995.
    • Arnold & Porter Legislative History Collection 31 legislative histories compiled by the Arnold & Porter law firm. U.S. Federal Materials>Legislative History>Arnold & Porter Collection-Legislative Histories.
  • Lexis Advance: Proquest Congressional CIS Legislative Histories (CISLH). Coverage 1970-present.
  • GMU Library Catalog: To locate compiled legislative histories at the George Mason Law Library, search using keywords for your topic and the phrase “legislative history.”
  • Union List of Legislative Histories: List of legislative histories compiled by libraries in the Washington, D.C. area. Published by The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. REFERENCE KF4.U55 2000.

Sources to Determine if a Compiled Legislative History is Available

Congressional Documents

If a compiled history does not exist, you can compile your own for a bill or law. To do so, first identify the bill number, find a bill history (also referred to as bill track or bill status), then compile the documents identified.  

Bill Number

  • United States Statutes at Large (1789-present) 1st Floor KF 50. Laws enacted by Congress published chronologically. Most volumes refer to statutory bill numbers. Available Online:
  • Legislative Reference Checklist: The Key to Legislative Histories from 1789-1903, by Eugene Nabors.  REFERENCE KF49 .L43 1982.  Provides tables cross-referencing statutes and corresponding bill numbers for Statutes at Large Volumes 1789-1903 (during those years the Statutes at Large did not include bill numbers). Also available on Heinonline.

Bill History

  • Congress.gov: Find bill summaries and statutes information. Coverage 93rd Congress (1973) to present. 
  • Congressional Record Index for bills between 1789 and 1972, consult this and its predecessors, the Congressional Globe, Register of Debates, and Annals of Congress. Microfiche Room Cabinets 10-11.
  • Lexis Advance: from 1989 to the present.
  • WestlawNext: from 1991 to the present US-BILLTRK AND BILLTRK-OLD. 
  • C-Span Congressional Chronicle:  Track bill history and link to video of corresponding floor debate.  Links to bill text on Thomas.  1987 to present.

Bill Text

The full text of bills is available from several different sources, depending on the date of the bill and the format required. 

Committee Reports

Committee reports summarize the action that a committee took on a bill, and committee reports are often thought of as the most useful documents for identifying legislative intent. A special committee called the conference committee is composed of member of the House and Senate and is used to reconcile the differences between bills passed in each chamber.

  • Proquest Congressional
    • Select Serial Set for 1789-2003 (full text) (limit search to year or Congress)
    • Select House & Senate Reports for 1990-present (full text)(limit search to year or Congress)  Thomas:104th Congress (1995) to present

Floor Debate

Floor Debate is published in the Congressional Record. Predecessors to the Congressional Record are: Congressional Globe (1833-1873), Register of Debates in Congress (1825-1837) Annals of the Congress of the United States (1789-1824). 

  • Proquest Congressional
    • Congressional Record (1873-1997)
    • Congressional Record Daily (1985-present)
    • Predecessors to Congressional Record (complete)
  • HeinOnline
    • Congressional Record (1873-2010) 
    • Congressional Record Daily (1980-)
    • Predecessors to Congressional Record (complete)
  • Congress.gov:101st Congress (1989) to present (Daily Edition)   
  • FDsys:103rd Congress (1994) to present (Daily Edition) (1999-2001 Bound Edition)
  • LexisAdvance: (RECORD-for combined Congresses). 105th Congress (1985) to the present  
  • WestlawNext: (CR) 1985 to present
  • C-Span Congressional Chronicle: Videos of House and Senate floor proceedings matched to text of Congressional record (1987-)

Hearings

Committee hearings can be one of the most elusive Congressional documents to locate.  The time between the event and its publication can be months or even years. Before the hearing is officially printed, you may be able to obtain hearing materials from the committee itself. 

  • FDsys: 99th Congress (1995) to present. Selected hearings, browse-able by session of Committee.
  • Proquest Congressional: 1824 to present. 
  • HeinOnline: Hearings in PDF from 1927 to 2011.  
  • Microfiche: Between 1965 and 1996, hearings are available in microfiche.  Microfiche Room, Law Library First Floor, Cabinets 9-11. 
  • Congressional Information Service Index: is a finding tool for hearings issued after 1969. Law Library First Floor Range 106.
  • WestlawNext: (USTESTIMONY) Selected coverage of hearing transcripts only (not official hearings) since 1993.
  • Lexis Advance: (LEGIS; FEDNEW) Selected coverage of hearing transcripts only (not official hearings) since 1988. 
  • Law Library of Congress. Hearings older than 1965 must be obtained in person here.
    • Law Library of Congress and Google are collaborating to digitize hearings. To date (July 15, 2011), this project has focused on hearings regarding the U.S. Census, Freedom of Information/Privacy, and Immigration

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

CRS is part of the Library of Congress. Its staff provides Congress with objective research and analysis on public policy issues. While not indicative of legislative intent, CRS reports are nonetheless an excellent source for topical analysis. 

Other Guides to Legislative History Research and the Legislative Process

Current Awareness

  • C-Span Video LibraryIndexed archive of every C-SPAN program aired from 1987 to present.
  • CQ Researcher: Reports and analysis of current issues and trends, 1991 to present.
  • CQ Weekly: Covers U.S. Congress, including bill status, votes, and committee and floor action, 1983 to present.  
  • LexisNexis Academic: Search congressional news: Left tool Bar: Subject Areas>Government & Politics. Includes access to popular news sources such as CQ Congressional Press Releases, The Hill, Roll Call, and CongressNow.
  • Lexis Advance: Content from The Washington Daybook and FNS Daybook which provide detailed scheduling information for the U.S Congress.

 

Last updated October 29, 2014