A legislative history includes documentation from all the steps in the law making process. Different documents have varying degrees of weight in showing congressional intent.
Bills and amendments . As introduced, reported on, and acted upon by either or both houses, a bill provides information on the original intent and language of its sponsor as well as evidence of deliberate exclusions and inclusions in the bill. Bills are numbered consecutively for the two sessions of each Congress.
Hearings . These are transcripts of the testimony of witnesses before House and Senate Committees. Hearings can be used to illustrate that certain issues and considerations were made known to Congress through the hearing process. Hearings are an early step in the legislative process. Hearings are not held for all bills. Neither are all hearings published. For those which are published, there can often be a lengthy delay before publication. Some information from hearings is available electronically, but this is usually only the pre submitted statements, not the verbal questions and answers from the hearing.
Committee Prints . Prepared for the use of a given committee, committee prints can be research studies, compilations of materials or statutes, legislative histories, background information, or working drafts of a bill. Committee prints are not automatically published or distributed.
Committee Reports . The committee's communication to Congress explains the purpose of the bill and contains the committee's explanations of and recommendations on the bill. Reports may be issued by House, Senate, and Conference Committees, and are numbered consecutively for each Congress and for each house.
Debates . These include all activities which occur on the floor of the two houses of Congress. While individual comments during debates are not proof of congressional intent, statements by the bill's sponsor or chairman of the committee reporting the bill, especially those with the stated intention of clarifying or explaining the bill, can have significant weight.
Presidential Messages . Delivered to Congress, these explain the reasons for suggesting, signing, or vetoing legislation. While only indirect evidence of congressional intent, they often provide helpful background information about the proposed legislation.