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Federal Legislative History Research Guide  

Last Updated: May 15, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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You Need the Official Stuff


What is Legislative History?

Legislative history is the step-by-step process by which a bill becomes law -- from introduction in one of the Houses of Congress to the President's signature (if it gets that far). The documents produced by Congress during this process are used to determine Congressional intent or to clarify vague statutory language. These documents carry only persuasive legal authority.


The Most Important Stuff

The most important documents produced during the legislative process, that is the documents most indicative of legislative intent, are as follows:

1.   Conference Report (if there is one)

2.   Committee Report

3.   Committee Hearing Transcript

4.   Floor Debates

Always look for these materials first when researching legislative history.

The Legislative Process

  • A bill is introduced in the House or the Senate.
  • The bill is referred to a committee and a subcommittee.
  • The committee and/or the subcommittee hold hearings on the bill.
  • The committee prepares a committee report and reports the bill to the full House or the Senate.
  • The bill is debated on the floor of the House or the Senate.
  • A vote is taken and the bill is passed or defeated.
  • The same procedure is carried out in the other house.
  • When both houses have passed related bills, the bills are referred to a conference committee where members agree to a compromised version.
  • The compromise bill is sent to each house with a conference committee report. A vote is taken and the bill is passed or defeated.
  • If the bill passes both houses, it is sent to the President.

    Examples of Information Used to Find Legislative History

    Guide Author

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    Steve Donweber
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    Room 284A
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