Introduction to Legislative Histories

This guide focuses on legislative history research.

Major Print and Electronic Sources

The following is a selection of sources that can be used to find already-compiled legislative histories. (This means that someone else has already done the legwork of gathering and compiling the documents – texts of bills, committee prints, reports, etc.). Please consult with a reference librarian for if you need assistance in using these sources.

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories
By Nancy P. Johnson. Hein, 2003.
This is a checklist of legislative histories that have been compiled for enacted laws which are published in government documents, periodical articles, and books. It indicates whether the source provides citations only or reprints the documents that make up the legislative history. NOT ALL PUBLIC LAWS ARE INCLUDED! It begins with the 1st Congress and is updated periodically.
KF 49 J63 Reference Office

Federal Legislative Histories
Bernard D. Reams, Jr. 
Greenwood Press, 1994. 
Provides an annotated bibliography and index to officially published sources. Indexes allow user to find relevant legislative histories by author, popular name of the law, Congressional session / public law numbers and bill numbers. 
KF 42.2 1994 Reference Office

US Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) (1941- )
USCCAN publishes the texts of all public laws enacted in a particular session of Congress. The legislative history volumes reprint selected Committee Reports (House, Senate, and Conference) for each of the laws. Both the biweekly advance sheets and the bound volumes contain a legislative history table which lists for each Public Law: date approved, Statutes at Large citation, bill and report numbers, committees that recommended the bill and dates of consideration and passage in the House and Senate. 
KF 48 Law Stacks

CIS/ Index and Abstracts
(Also in available electronically as the LexisNexis Congressional Universe database. See entry in MAJOR ELECTRONIC SOURCES) CIS abstracts and indexes most congressional publications (except the Congressional Record) issued since 1970. Annual cumulations are in two parts: a subject index, and abstracts of the indexed publications. The legislative history documents can be located by bill number, Public Law number, report number, subject, title, author, or witness name. Multi-year cumulative abstracts have also been issued. Starting in 1984, an annual Legislative Histories volume was added. Arranged by Public Law number, this volume indexes and abstracts all documents relevant to a public law even if the documents are from Congresses prior to the enactment of the law.

Major Electronic Sources

Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet

  • Thomas makes available a wide range of federal legislative information, starting as early as 1973.
  • The Legislation database includes a "Public Laws by Law Number" section which provides summary and status records for bills which became law. Coverage begins in 1973 (93rd Congress).
  • For Public Laws enacted since 1989, the "Bill Text" section provides the full text of all versions of bills (including those which were not enacted).
  • The Committee Information database contains a "Committee Reports" section which provides full text to most of the House, Senate, and Joint committee reports (including conference reports) issued since 1995 (104th Congress).
  • The Congressional Record database contains text and index sections. Use to access the full text of the CR from 1989 to the current issue.

GPO Access 
This website provides access to the following full text documents:

  • History of Bills and Resolutions (1983-date)
  • Congressional Bills (1993-date)
  • Congressional Documents (House, Senate, and Treaty documents – 1995-date)
  • Congressional Record (1994-date)
  • Congressional Reports (1995-date)
  • Committee Prints (1997-date)
  • Public & Private Laws (1995-date)
  • Committee Hearings database -- coverage is limited.

Proquest Congressional Universe 

  • Subscription database providing electronic access to the information in the CIS Index and Abstracts, described in the section entitled "Major Print Sources." The abstracts are searchable by subject, Public Law number, committee, witness, bill number, and publication title. Many are linked to the full text of the documents. Keyword searching of the compiled histories is also available.

    Heafey Law Library Research Team