Begin Step-by-Step Research -- Research Tips
See the section "Understand the Legislative Process" for links to resources describing the process. Don't try to locate the detailed documentation of the stages of a bill becoming a law until you clearly understand what those stages are.
At various points in your research, you'll almost certainly need the Public Law (P.L.) number and the Congressional bill number (e.g., S. 134 or H.R. 3370), so keep them handy. Record all the numbers, dates and citations you view, even if you're not sure what each citation means at first; e.g.
79 P.L. 396; 79 Cong. Ch. 281; 60 Stat. 230, H.R. 3370, PUBLIC LAW, NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH ACT,
JUNE 4, 1946, UNITED STATES STATUTES AT LARGE 79TH CONGRESS - 2ND SESSION
refers to Public Law 79-396, also identified as Chapter 281 of the laws from the 79th Congress, published in volume 60 of the Statutes at Large on page 230. The legislation originated in the House of Representatives as House bill number 3370 and became a law on June 4, 1946.
Read and follow the steps carefully. There are at least a thousand pages of documentation to wade through for most major laws, and some laws have tens of thousands of pages. These steps are designed to help the researcher locate clues about which documentation might be most helpful, thereby allowing the researcher to focus where time is spent. Some steps can be skipped because they only apply to laws passed during a specific time period (e.g., steps 5 through 7 only apply to laws passed prior to 1969), but otherwise it is best to work through each step in order.
Obviously this tip doesn't apply if you actually need to research the history of a specific law. But if you are trying to pick a law to research for a class assignment about legislative histories, you can search the Legislative Histories file at ProQuest Congressional by keyword.
To keep the research assignment manageable, generally avoid selecting anything that is part of an omnibus or appropriations law because it will usually be much more difficult to wade through the various issues.
It is generally easy to find out who favored the law (and why) because it received a majority of the votes to become law. What may be more difficult is determining who opposed it and why. To improve the likelihood that sufficient documentation exists for discussing the pros and cons of the law, select a law with at least one committee report and at least one committee hearing. More reports and hearings are preferred. What you're particularly looking for are minority/dissenting views listed at the ends of the reports and testimony in the hearings that opposes or questions some aspect of the proposed bill.
Although you can compile a legislative history about any law, the research will probably be easier if the law was enacted between 1989 and 2008 because of online tools such as the bill tracking report in step 4.
See the potential research problems about selecting a law that is "not actually a Public Law."
After you've picked a Public Law, hold off on exploring the details of the various LexisNexis files until after you've completed steps 2 through 3.
Some useful encyclopedias include:
As a bare minimum, complete steps 1 through 3 and verify whether or not the law you've selected to research meets your instructor's guidelines. Some students switch laws several times before identifying a law with sufficient documentation to answer all of the assignment questions, but not one that has an overwhelming amount of documentation to review.
The bill became a law, so support for it obviously existed. It is sometimes more difficult to determine what, if any, opposition existed.