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Federal Legislative History

Research guide about resources and strategies for researching federal legislative history.

Bills

To begin the process of enacting a law, a member of Congress must introduce a bill in either the House or the Senate (designated either H.R. or S., followed by a bill number, ie. H.R. 3580). Frequently, similar versions of bills will be introduced in both houses. The various versions of a bill may provide useful information about the exact meaning of the words finally chosen to express the intentions of the legislators.

To Locate Bills Online

Congress.gov, a site launched by the Library of Congress in collaboration with the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate and Government Printing Office, is the official site for federal legislative information. Bill records are available on Congress.gov from 1973 (93rd Congress) to the present. The full texts of bills are available from 1989 (101st Congress), and the full text of laws from 1995 (104th Congress). Amendment records are available from 1981 (97th Congress), and full text of amendments is available from 1995 (104th Congress) to the present.  Different bill versions are linked. 

All published versions of bills from the 103rd Congress (1993) forward can be found on the U.S. Government Printing Office website, GovInfo. The information is updated daily.

ProQuest Congressional is available on campus computers and off-site with Onyen and password verification. It features bill tracking and includes the full text of bills from 1789 forward. You can locate bills on ProQuest Congressional by selecting the Search By Number feature and then entering the applicable bill number.

LexisNexis contains bill tracking and the full text of all versions of bills from the 101st Congress (1989) through the current Congress (authorized users only).

Westlaw contains bill tracking and the full text of all versions of bills from the 104th Congress (1995) through the current Congress (authorized users only).

To Locate Bills in Print

Older bills can be identified through the Congressional Index (KF49 .C6).

House and Senate Bills (Microfiche Y1.4/1...). The Law Library has received all versions of bills introduced from the 98th Congress, second session (1984) through the 106th Congress, second session (2000). A printed guide for locating individual bills is provided on the 1st floor documents microfiche cabinets.

Davis Library also has microfiche copies of bills through the 106th Congress in the Government Documents collection.

The final version of a bill is usually provided in the committee report.

Some Senate bills are printed in the Congressional Record, generally on the day they are introduced. Quite often, a senator gives a statement of introduction, which is helpful in understanding the provisions of the bill. The text of House measures are rarely printed, and there are usually no statements of introduction.

Additionally, bills may be located in one of the hearings records.