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Law Research Guide: Federal Bill Histories

Federal bill histories and legislative histories

Selected sources of compiled federal histories of bills or legislative histories, some more complete than others:

Title

Congress

Years

Format

Location

Notes

Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States,
Journal of the Senate of the United States
H: 1st-43rd
S: 24th Cong., 2nd sess.-43rd
H:1789-1875
S:1836-1875
online House Journal
Senate Journal, from American Memory Best Bet
  • To find the index to bills and resolutions, choose "browse", the Congress, the session, and "NAVIGATOR"; scroll down to the "Index". The index to bills and resolutions is often in the alphabetical index in the "B"s or at the end of the "Z"s.
  • Each chamber's Journal contains an index of its own bills, and some contain an index of the other chamber's bills as well.
  • Volumes earlier than those listed at the left may also contain some bill histories. Consult individual volumes.
U.S. Federal Legislative History Library 14th- 1815- online HeinOnline, U.S. Federal Legislative History Library Best Bet
  • Choose "U.S. Federal Legislative History Library" from the drop-down (at the top left).
History of Bills and Resolutions in boundCongressional Record;
indexes in Annals of Congress, Register of Debates in Congress, Congressional Globe
42nd- 1873-1984 paper Govt Doc X 42-:
  • Information is the same as that provided in the daily version (described just below), except that page numbers refer to the bound† version of the Congressional Record.
  • In the Congressional Record, History of Bills and Resolutions is often located in the last or penultimate Part of the session, after the Index and before the Daily Digest.
  • The Daily Digest of the Congressional Record includes History of Bills Enacted into Public Law.
  • The indexes to the Annals of Congress, Register of Debates in Congress, and Congressional Globe provide similar information about bills.
  • For full information, you may need to check in volumes for both sessions of a Congress.
43rd- 1873- online HeinOnline, Congressional Record Best Bet
U.S. GAO Federal Legislative Histories 66th, 3rd sess.-101st, 1st sess. 1921-1995 online Westlaw
  • "The U.S. Government Accountability Office's collection of legislative history documents compiled for most U.S. Public Laws enacted from 1921 to 1995"
Digest of Public General Bills and Resolutions 74th-101st, w/gaps 1936-1990, w/gaps online HathiTrust
  • Does not provide the text of bills and resolutions. Provides "in summary form, the essential features of public bills and resolutions and changes thereto made during the legislative process. It also indicates committee and floor action and includes sponsor and cosponsor, identical bill, short title, and subject indexes."
84th-101st 1955-66, 1967-1990 paper Gov Doc LC 14.6:
Legislative Histories (Abbreviated) 91st-97th 1969-1983 online ProQuest Congressional Best Bet
  • -1998 (105th), major public laws only
    1999 (106th)-, all public laws
  • "Full" legislative histories (1984-) include, as relevant: bill versions, related bills, debate from the Congressional Record (page numbers reference the daily† version), committee reports, committee hearings, committee prints, House and Senate documents, presidential signing statements, etc.
  • Limit your search to "Legislative Histories 1969-Present", Narrow Results by "Legislative History", or choose a "Legislative History" from the results list.
Legislative Histories (Full) 98th- 1984- online
Legislation of the U.S. Congress 93rd- 1973- online Legislation of the U.S. Congress, via congress.gov Best Bet
  • With bill summary, full-text (when available), actions, major recorded votes (when available), titles, amendments, cosponsors, committees, and related bills.
  • References to page numbers in the Congressional Record are to the daily† edition.
Bills and Resolutions 93rd- 1973- online govtrack
  • data provided by THOMAS
History of Bills and Resolutions

 

(in daily† Congressional Record Index)
96th- 1980- online HeinOnline, Congressional Record Daily
  • Legislative actions on bills as reported in the dailyCongressional Record. The print equivalent is the History of Bills and Resolutions which is part of the biweekly Congressional Record Index.
  • In HeinOnline, look for History of Bills and Resolutions in the last Index of the session.
  • For full information, you may need to check the History of Bills and Resolutions for both sessions of a Congress.
  • An entry may include the bill number, title, summary, names of sponsors and cosponsors, and a chronological list of actions on the bill. Each action references a daily Congressional Record page number and the date when the action was reported in the format "S5798 [9JN]" (page 5798 in the Senate section from the June 9 issue for that year).
98th- 1983- online search or browse History of Bills via govinfo
Bill Profiles, a.k.a. Bill Tracking reports 101st- 1989- online ProQuest Congressional Best Bet
  • Includes bills that may not have become Public Laws as well as those that did.
  • Page numbers reference the daily† version of the Congressional Record.
  • From the results list, choose a "Bill Profile" or "Narrow Results by" "Bill Profile" from the facets on the right.
House Calendar 104th-present 1995-present online search or browse Congressional Calendars via govinfo The Calendars of the United States House of Representatives and History of Legislation contain a history of both House and Senate bills and resolutions that have been reported or considered by either house. In addition, the issue for the first legislative day of each week that the House is in session includes a legislative history of bills through conference. (If Congress is not in session on a Monday, these sections will be printed on either the prior Friday or the next day that the House is in session.)
Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States,
Journal of the Senate of the United States
108th Cong., 2nd sess.-113th Cong., 1st sess. 2004-2013 online ProQuest Congressional, Committee Prints & Misc. Publications  
Title

Congress

Years

Format

Location

Notes

Explanation of the difference between the daily and bound Congressional Record.

Additional sources of information on the histories of bills or legislative histories

Guides

Guides to major documents associated with a legislative history

at Bowdoin College Library

Guides to legislative history

How a Bill Becomes a Law

PDF, Government Publishing Office

How our Laws are Made, 2007, by John Sullivan, Parliamentarian, U.S. House of Representatives, H.Doc. 110–49

Enactment of a Law, 1997, by Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian, U.S. Senate

Our American Government, H.Doc. 108-94

Background information

What is a legislative history?

A legislative history is a list of the steps that a particular piece of legislation went through and the associated documents. A legislative history might be used to answer questions such as:

  • What steps did a bill take in Congress? What documents were produced at each step?
  • What was the intent of Congress?
  • What arguments for and against the legislation were made?
  • Who were the leaders associated with the legislation?

Analytical reports

Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Full text reports from this non-partisan "watchdog" agency evaluate cost and effectiveness of past and proposed legislation. Formerly known as the known as the General Accounting Office.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
Primary congressional agency charged with reviewing congressional budgets and other legislative initiatives with budgetary implications.

CRS Reports, 2004-present, via ProQuest Congressional. "The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides comprehensive research and analysis on all legislative and oversight issues of interest to Congress." Other sources of CRS Reports.

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