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Full text access to current bills in U.S. Congress.

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What is a Legislative History and How is it Used?

A legislative history is the documentation produced by Congress on the background and events leading up to the enactment of a law. Legislative history is used to determine the intent of the legislators in passing a particular statute. When a question arises concerning the applicability or interpretation of a statute, a legislative history can be compiled or consulted to better understand the reasons for the enactment of that statute.

Legislative histories may be compiled by commercial publishers or, sometimes, by Congress itself for important legislation or in a particular subject area. For instance, the House Committee on Education and Labor compiled a legislative history of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many times you will need to compile the legislative history of an act yourself.

What Documents Make up a Federal Legislative History?

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.

What Steps Do I Take in Compiling a Federal Legislative History?

1. If a law has been enacted, check to see if a legislative history has already been compiled.
2. If no law has been enacted, first locate the bill number.
3. Determine what significant actions have been taken on the bill.
4. Identify citations to:

* committee reports (House, Senate, and Conference)
* hearings held on the bill in the considering Congress, or on the same topic in previous Congresses
* congressional floor action on the bill including debates, floor amendments, and votes
* presidential messages relating to the bill/act 5. Locate the documents themselves.

Finding Legal Information in Randall Library

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Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
CIS Annual
U.S. Statutes at Large
Legislative Histories
Randall Library Catalog
GPO Access
LexisNexis Congressional - Laws
Digest of Public General Bills Congressional Record Index-History of Bills and Resolutions
CIS Annual
House Bills (Y 1.4/6)
Senate Bills (Y 1.4/1)
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report
Bills and Amendments
GPO Access
LexisNexis Congressional -- Bills American Memory -- A Century of Lawmaking
House & Senate Hearings (Y 4 ) USCCAN
CIS Annual
U.S. Serial Set
Senate Reports (Y 1.1/5)
House Reports (Y 1.1/8)
Senate Documents (Y 1.1/3)
House Documents (Y 1.1/7) Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789-1946
Committee Action
LexisNexis Congressional -- Committee Prints
GPO Access
American Memory - A Century of Lawmaking
Congressional Record
Congressional Debate
LexisNexis Congressional -- Congressional Record
GPO Access
American Memory -- A Century of Lawmaking
Congressional Record Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report Congressional Quarterly Almanac
Congressional Vote
LexisNexis Congressional
GPO Access
American Memory --A Century of Lawmaking
Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents
Public Papers of the Presidents Federal Register
Serial Set
Senate Documents (Y 1.1/3) House Documents (Y 1.1/7)
Presidential Action
LexisNexis Congressional
GPO Access
American Memory -- A Century of Lawmaking
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) -- A Guide To Presidential Documents
U.S. Statutes at Large & Slip laws
U.S. Code
LexisNexis Congressional
GPO Access
Federal Register
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
LexisNexis Congressional
GPO Access
U.S. Reports & Slip Opinions
U.S. Supreme Court Reports
Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States
Judicial Review
LexisNexis Congressional
GPO Access
Supreme Court of the U.S. - Official site
American Memory -- A Century of Lawmaking
Supreme Court Decisions (Cornell)
Federal Courts Finder (Emory) Federal Court Locator (Villanova)
Congress and the Nation Congressional Quarterly Almanac Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report Major Legislation of the Congress
Congressional Digest
Analysis of Legislation
LexisNexis Congressional -- Inside Washington
Tapping the Government Grapevine (Chapter 8)
Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process
Legislative Process
How A Bill Becomes A Law --Project Vote Smart
LexisNexis Congressional -- From Bill To Law

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