Understanding the Legislative Process
Start with these basic overviews of the legislative process:
and then visit LexisNexis Congressional for a chart and step-by-step
or the following resources from Congress:
or the following resource:
What is a legislative history and how is it used?
A legislative history
- traces the events leading to the passage of a Public
- 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.
provides additional guides with more details about
Step-by-Step Research about a Public Law
- Identify the Public Law number.
- Locate and read overviews of the bill's history.
- Retrieve a compiled legislative history list of
bills, hearings, reports, debate, etc.
- Retrieve the Bill Tracking Report.
- Retrieve the brief "Guide to Legislative
History" list of bills, reports and debate.
- Retrieve the list of reports and documents
by bill number(s).
- Retrieve the list of reports, documents, and hearings
- Retrieve articles from journals and newspapers.
- Search for information from organizations concerned with the issue.
- Check other resources for information.
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Where to Find the Text of Congressional Publications
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Potential Research Problems
Not 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.
- Federal Regulations
- Executive Orders - For Example, charitable choice was implemented
by Executive Order 13279 on Dec. 12, 2002.
- State Laws and Regulations - Documentation of the intent of state
legislatures can be very difficult to research.
For example, see
Documenting Florida Legislative Intent
- Failed or Vetoed Congressional Bills - Some of the publications
discussed above will exist, but there won't be ready-made guides to the
legislative history since the bill never became a law.
Publications Never or Not Yet Published
Some Congressional committees have been extremely slow to publish their
reports and documents.
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
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.
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
So how do you find those reports and hearings?
You can still search for them using the online LexisNexis Congressional,
but the details won't show up in the Legislative History section.
- go to the home page of
LexisNexis Congressional, and then
- 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 "
- 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
- 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. Months are sometimes abbreviated and
sometimes spelled out, e.g., "Oct" or "October".
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.
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Looking for something
Ask for assistance at the UCF Libraries' Research Assistance Desk or
Ask A Librarian.
Rich Gause, Government Documents Librarian
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Last updated October 13, 2011 9:30:36 AM