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Legislative Histories: Potential Research Problems

The "law" is not actually a Public Law

If the topic being researched is not a Public Law passed by Congress, then there won't be federal legislative history materials about it. Examples include:

  • Federal Regulation
  • Executive Order, e.g., charitable choice was implemented by Executive Order 13279 on Dec. 12, 2002.
  • State Law or Regulation -- Documentation of the intent of state legislatures can be very difficult to research. For example, see Florida
  • Failed or Vetoed Congressional Bill -- Some of the publications discussed in this research guide will exist, but there won't be ready-made guides to the legislative history since the bill never became a law.
  • Bill currently moving through Congress -- Some of the publications discussed in this research guide may exist, but it is not a federal law yet and may never become a law.

If your assignment is to compile a legislative history for a federal law, choose another topic.

Publications about the law have never been published or have not yet been published

Some Congressional committees have been extremely slow to publish their reports and documents.

Your research will be more difficult and you'll probably need to focus on secondary sources, such as news coverage and articles. Ask for assistance to verify that the reports and documents still have not been published.

Lack of Congressional Documentation

If the legislation flew through Congress with little or no opposition, there may have been no hearings and no committee reports produced. In 1995 the rush to meet the 100-day goal of the "Contract with America" resulted in some bills moving forward without hearings and with limited debate.

Your research will be more difficult and you'll probably need to focus on secondary sources, such as news coverage and articles.

No Record of How Individuals Voted, e.g. Voice Vote

It is not possible to determine how individual members of Congress voted unless the vote was recorded name by name. Voice votes are simply a shouted chorus of "ayes" versus a shouted chorus of "nays"; there is no record of how specific individuals voted in a voice vote.

Simply indicate the results and that it was a voice vote, then move on to the next item in your research.

No Specific Citation Listed in the Legislative History

If the report or hearing had not yet been published at the time CIS went to press with the Legislative History volume, then CIS identified the report or hearing by subject, committee, and date, but there won't be a citation that directs you to the microfiche by number. That problem carries over into the electronic product because they just imported the legislative history information from the print version without updating it. NOTE: LexisNexis began a retrospective project to update the records in the online database prior to selling the product to ProQuest, but the status of that project is not known.

So how do you find those reports and hearings?

You can still search for them using the online ProQuest Congressional, but the details won't show up in the Legislative History section. Instead, go to the home page of ProQuest Congressional

  • If you have the Congressional report or hearing number, use the last tab for " Search By Number" and then enter the number to retrieve descriptive information for the report or hearing.
  • Otherwise, use the second tab for " Advanced Search", then
    • Search by a few of the key words and limit by date, but go from the year of the report or hearing to one or two years later to allow for the publication date not matching the actual hearing date.
    • Avoid too tight a phrase search, even if you think you know the title. Example, the actual title of a 1999 hearing when published was "Challenges Confronting Older Children Leaving Foster Care" but the description published in the legislative history was "Hearings on challenges confronting children aging out of foster care", so a search for the phrase "challenges confronting children" misses retrieving the actual hearing.
    • In the results list, it is usually easiest to scan the list for the date of the hearing. NOTE: Months are sometimes abbreviated and sometimes spelled out, e.g., "Oct" or "October".

Microfiche Missing

If the fiche are not in the CIS drawer and you cannot find them on top of the cabinets waiting to be refiled, you can try using the SUDOC number (e.g., Y4.W36:106-26) to find a copy in our depository microfiche. You do NOT need both versions.