In order to compile a legislative history, you need to know the steps in the legislative process and the documents which are produced as a result of that process -- they form the main components of your history. For a detailed description, consult the guide The Legislative Process.
To begin, you need to know three things: the Public Law (P.L.) number, the bill number, and the date it was introduced in Congress. The following sources can help you identify a P.L. to trace. They also can provide you with valuable background information about the intent of the law, its sponsors, and some of the issues surrounding the bill's passage into law. Each of these sources enables you to select a P.L. by topic, and determine if it was a major piece of legislation.
- CQ Weekly.
Washington, D.C. Congressional Quarterly, 1948-
Call Number: JK 1 .C15
Updates CQ Almanac, below. All the important activity in Congress.
- CQ Almanac. Annual.
Washington, D.C. : CQ Press, 1953-
Call Number: JK 1 .C15
CQ covers everything that goes on in Congress and is well indexed. It's useful to determine dates, chronologies, bill titles and numbers. Also a good source for a succinct analysis of the issues related to a particular piece of legislation. Use CQ Weekly, above, for current legislation, the annual almanac for prior years. Congressional Quarterly is the best source to use for initial identification of legislation to research
Note: Only bills which were passed into law will have legislative histories.
- Congress and the Nation. Quadrennial.
Washington, D.C. : CQ Press, 1945-
Call Number: KF 49 .C65
Each volume covers governmental action during a four-year presidential term, divided into broad themes like Economic Policy, Foreign Policy, or Housing and Urban Aid, with chronologies and further references. Useful for determining intent of both the congressional and executive branches.
- National Journal. Biweekly.
Washington: Government Research Corp., 1981-
Call Number: JK 1 .N28
National Journal is more policy-oriented than CQ; useful for identifying the major players and issues surrounding legislation.
National Journal Group's Policy Central is a collection of online resources for politics and policy. It includes the full text of the National Journal, 1977 to the present.
Once you have selected a Public Law, then you have to identify all of the documents associated with it.
Use the following sources:
- ProQuest Legislative Insight
Proquest Legislative Insight is a federal legislative history service that makes available thoroughly researched compilations of digital full-text publications relevant to enacted U.S. public laws. These include the full text of the public law itself, all versions of related bills, law-specific Congressional Record excerpts, committee hearings, reports, and prints. Also included are presidential signing statements, CRS reports and miscellaneous congressional publications that provide background material to aid in the understanding of issues related to the making of the law.
Eventually, ProQuest Legislative Insight will provide legislative histories for all public laws from the 71st Congress (1929) to the present.
- ProQuest Congressional
Proquest Congressional is the most comprehensive online resource available for congressional publications and legislative research. Included are: Committee Hearings, Committee Prints, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports, House and Senate Documents, House and Senate Reports, Senate Executive Reports, Senate Executive Treaty Documents, Legislative Histories (1970-present), Statutes at Large, the Serial Set and Serial Set Maps. Most of the content is full text. The most efficient way to search is by P.L. or bill number, then retrieve bill tracking information. ProQuest Congressional also can be used to compile legislative histories for older laws, pre-1970. The full text of all public laws, hearings and committee prints is available (through 2003), and the associated documents for the older laws can be located by searching the section "Congressional Indexes, 1789-1969."
Source for current bills and other legislative activities. Click on "Bill Summary & Status" or "Public Laws" to retrieve the text of bills and laws, and other legislative history documents.