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Legislative Histories: Home

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

What is a legislative history and how is it used?

A legislative history

  • traces the events leading to the passage of a Public Law;
  • documents the issues and facts considered by Congress in reaching its decision; and
  • includes publications such as reports from committees and the record of testimony at public hearings.

A legislative history is consulted to resolve questions as to how a law should be interpreted or applied. The original process of crafting the law is examined to determine legislative intent. Those seeking to modify existing laws or to enact related legislation may also review legislative histories to gain insights about the key issues and to identify likely opponents and supporters, both within and outside Congress.

Government Information Clearinghouse & Handout Exchange provides additional guides with more details about legislative histories.

UC Berkeley provides several Congressional Research Tutorials:

  • Find a bill (1989+)
  • Find a hearing
  • Find Congressional Debate (1873+)

Understanding the Legislative Process

Start with these basic overviews of the legislative process:

then visit ProQuest Congressional for a chart and step-by-step review:

or the following resources from Congress:

or the following resources: