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Legislative Histories: 02 - Locate overviews

Step-by-Step Research about a Federal Law

Begin Step-by-Step Research -- Research Tips

  1. Identify the Public Law number
  2. Locate and read overviews of the bill's history
    - Congressional Quarterly Almanac
    - U.S. Code Congressional & Administrative News
  3. Retrieve a compiled legislative history list of bills, hearings, reports, debate, etc.
    - CIS Index: Legislative Histories
  4. Retrieve the Bill Tracking Report
    - ProQuest Congressional
  5. Retrieve the brief "Guide to Legislative History" list of bills, reports and debate
    - U.S. Statutes at Large
  6. Retrieve the list of reports and documents by bill number(s)
    - CIS U.S. Serial Set Index, Part XIII, Index by Reported Bill Numbers, 1817-1969
  7. Retrieve the list of reports, documents, and hearings by subject
    - ProQuest Congressional, Historical Indexes, 1789-1969
    - CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index, 1833-1969
  8. Retrieve articles from journals & newspapers
  9. Search for information from organizations concerned with the issue
    - Gale Directory Library
  10. Check other resources for information
    - Thomas
    - GPO Access
    - Other sites

Congressional Quarterly Almanac (1945+)

Congressional Quarterly Almanac provides detailed analyses for most major pieces of legislation considered during a Congressional session.

  • Reference JK 1 .C663 (P.L. 90-1, 1967+;
    - missing the 1975 volume with coverage of P.L. 94-1 through 94-205)
  • Orlando Public Library (P.L. 82-1, 1951+)

Earlier volumes may be available in other local libraries, such as the Orlando Public Library (1951+). The earliest volumes for 1945-1950 are available at University of Florida (Gainesville) and University of South Florida (Tampa).

The narrative descriptions often track bills through the process, including discussion of the hurdles and compromises in committees. Sometimes these accounts focus on bills that failed to become law, but which received a lot of attention. For example, the 2002 volume devotes the entire five page Social Policy chapter to two issues: welfare reform and charitable choice. Congress failed to reach agreement on either issue. If these bills were reintroduced in subsequent sessions of Congress, then this analysis from 2002 might be useful for compiling part of the legislative history for those subsequent laws.

NOTE: Not every law is discussed, but search carefully before assuming that a particular law isn't covered; use the table of contents and the index to determine likely sections and then skim through those sections because the indexing is not comprehensive. Also check the volumes for earlier years and the following year.

If there is no coverage of a particular bill in the annual volume, there might be information available in CQ Weekly (step 8).

Congress and the Nation (1945-2004)

Congress and the Nation provides less detailed analyses for major pieces of legislation than the coverage found in Congressional Quarterly Almanac.

  • Reference KF 4935 .C38 (P.L. 79-1 through P.L. 108-498, 1945-2004)

U. S. Code Congressional & Administrative News (1952+)

U. S. Code Congressional & Administrative News

  • Reference KF 62 .A2 W4 (P.L. 89-350, 1966+)
  • Orlando Public Library (P.L. 82-256, 1952+)

The Congressional bill number (e.g., S. 472 or H.R. 1137) for a specific Public Law should appear near the beginning of the text for that law; record the Congressional bill number in your notes.

The first few volumes in each year contain the actual text of the Public Laws.

The subsequent volumes in each year often contain the full text of one or two of the significant committee reports about each Public Law and sometimes include the text of the Signing Statement from the President. Sometimes only the highlights of the committee reports are printed here, but reading an abridged version of the report may save time.

NOTE: Committee reports are not included in this publication for every Public Law. Even if one or two committee reports are included, there may be other important committee reports for the Public Law.

Is the Public Law between P.L. 88-1 (1963) and P.L. 89-349 (1965)?