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Federal Legislative History

Resources for locating a compiled legislative history, and compiling one of your own.

Start Here!

The first step in working with legislative history is determining whether one has already been compiled.  Compiling a legislative history (gathing together all of the relevant documents) can be a laborious, time-consuming project. Always check to see whether someone has already compiled a history before you begin; it will save a lot of time and effort. 

Introduction

The term “legislative history” refers to documents generated as a bill works its way through the legislative process. Even bills not enacted into law may have a legislative history. The number and kinds of documents varies greatly and may include the text of the bill (including introduced, amended, and reported versions); conference reports; committee reports; House and Senate debate; statements made by sponsors; committee hearings, prints, and documents; presidential signing statements; reports from congressional agencies (such as the Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office); news coverage; and post-enactment analysis. Finally, relevant documents might include all of these materials on related bills from past or current congressional sessions. 

Historically, there has been no single comprehensive source for legislative history documents. Which source you used depended on the type of materials you were looking for, the age of the materials, and what format you required. While this is still true today, you will find that the Proquest Congressional database comes close to being a comprehensive source for legislative history research and documents.   

Commentary on Statutes and Legislative History

Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library / 3600 John McCormack Road N.E., Washington, DC 20064 / 202-319-5155