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Legislative Research Process

Answer the questions below to guide you to the best sources for your information.
Then use the Quick Links at the bottom to access the documents.

Are you looking for a bill, law, or regulation?

  • Congress starts renumbering bills with each Congress, so you will need the Congress number and the bill number.
  • Most bills are never acted on once they are introduced.
  • If a bill is not passed by the end of that Congress it is automatically killed.
  • If the bill was not referred to a committee for further consideration, there are unlikely to be hearings on it.  Try searching Proquest Congressional by bill number and/or subject.
  • For voting records try the Congressional Record, or the CQ Almanac.
  • If there is a voice vote, there is no record of how individuals voted on it.

Check Sources for Federal Legislation Federal Bills or Bill Status/Tracking.

What do you already know about the law?

  • Do you have a full citation?

  • Do you have the official name or a popular name for the law?

  • Do you have an approximate idea of when the law was passed?

If not, check Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names (REF GVP US AE 2. 111/6x:, 3rd Floor)  This includes both state and federal laws and will give you the date of passage, public law number, and, citations to the U.S. Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code. It will also provide dates and public law numbers for legislation amending that act.

Check Sources for Federal Legislation U.S. Code or Public Laws/U.S. Statutes at Large.

Regulations are developed by the agencies that oversee that area of government. They are typically much more detailed and specific than their corresponding legislation.

Check Sources for Federal Regulations.

Do you need the original or current text of the law?

Find the text of the original public law in the U.S. Statutes at Large. There you can determine the bill number, as well as a short legislative history.  This will also give you the corresponding section number where the text will be found in the U.S. Code, which is a subject arrangement of laws currently in effect.   

Consult the U.S. Code, which is a subject arrangement of all of the laws currently in effect.

  • divided into 50 major subject categories, called titles

  • numbered sections of a  public law may appear in different areas of the code, depending on the subject matter of that section 

  • numbering of the subject categories, or titles, does  not correspond exactly to the numbering used in the Code of Federal Regulations 

  • sections within the U.S. Code do not have the same numbers as they have in the U.S. Statutes at Large

Do you need the text of a law, or a legislative history?

Check Sources for Congressional Actions and Information.

A legislative history, which can usually be accessed by public law number, will give you: the main provisions of the act, the bill number, and a list of committee reports, hearings and other important documents. Other categories of congressional publications can be useful in helping you to determine the intent of the legislation, its implementation, key  proponents and opponents, etc. 

  • Congressional Hearings include testimony of people who support or oppose the legislation. Since hearings are generally very lengthy, look at the abstract in Proquest Congressional to learn who testified, what organizations were represented and what positions were presented. The abstract will also indicate any supplemental materials reprinted in that hearing. Often statistics, journal articles, and previously unpublished research are reprinted here for the convenience of the committee.  If full-text is not available online, look under library Call Number: GVP US Y4. (Specific call number listed in abstract.)

  • Committee reports  provide a summary of the bill, legislative intent, fiscal impact, and the Committee recommendation. If the Committee is divided on the bill there will generally be a "minority report" included. Reports often give an overview of the pros and cons brought out at the hearings. Find them in the U.S. Serial Set/American State Papers or Congressional Record. If full-text is not available online, look under library Call Number: GVP US Y1. (Specific call number listed in abstract.)

  • The Congressional Record shows all floor action and debate in the House and Senate and is updated daily.

  • Federal Roll Call Votes shows how each member of Congress voted on a bill. If the voting record indicates "voice vote" there will be no record of how individuals voted.

Sources for Federal Legislation

Subject arrangement of laws currently in effect

Source Coverage

print - GVP US

           Y1. 1/5:

1934 to date (some in remote storage; ask a librarian for assistance)
Law Library of Congress 1925 to 1993 (supplements to 1988 edition) (GPO) current edition with revisions back to 1994

ProQuest Congressional

current edition only; annotated with links to related court cases and law reviews

Source Coverage

print - REF GVP US

          AE 2. 111:

1789 to date (GPO) 1951 to date 1973 to date
Westlaw Campus Research - default
Westlaw Campus Research > Legislative History
1973 to date
ProQuest Congressional 1989 to date
A Century of Lawmaking 1789-1875

Track laws from introduction through all action until passage
Source Coverage
ProQuest Congressional 1969 to date

print - Digest of Public General Bills

GVP US LC14.6:

U.S. Statutes at Large (brief legislative history) see above

Source Coverage
ProQuest Congressional 1789 to date 1989 to date (GPO) 1993 to date
A Century of Lawmaking 1789 to 1871

For federal bills that may or may not have become law
Source Coverage 1973 to date (GPO) 1983 to date
ProQuest Congressional 1989 to date
A Century of Lawmaking 1774-1875

Sources for Congressional Actions and Information

Floor debate & action

Source Coverage

ProQuest Congressional

1985 to date (GPO) 1994 to date

1995 to date
A Century of Lawmaking 1789-1875
print - Remote GVP US * microfiche check catalog for holdings

Individual votes for voice votes are not recorded
Source Coverage

1989 to date
CQ Weekly 1991 to date

print - CQ Almanac

          REF JK1. C6


print - Congress and the Nation

          REF JK 1001 .C6


House & Senate Reports and Documents
Source Coverage
ProQuest Congressional 1789 to date (GPO) 1995 to date; some earlier reports only; 1995 to date
A Century of Lawmaking 1789 to 1875
Law Library of Congress 1817 to 1994

print - GVP US

          Y 1. 1/2:

check catalog for holdings information

Committee fact-finding & debate on issues and legislation
Source Coverage
ProQuest Congressional

1830 to date: indexed

1970 to date: selected/partial full-text

1824-1969: full-text

House & Senate websites look under individual committees for full-text of selected hearings (GPO) 1985 to date: selected hearings; incomplete

print - GVP US

          Y 4.

varies; ask a librarian for assistance none

Provide background information on a topic
Source Coverage
ProQuest Congressional 1817 to date: indexed; no full-text

print - GVP US

           Y 4.

varies; ask a librarian for assistance

Source Coverage
CQ Weekly 1983 to date

ProQuest Congressional

1987 to date

print - CQ Almanac

REF JK 1 .C66


print - Congress and the Nation

REF JK 1001 .C6


Sources for Federal Regulations

Subject arrangement of regulations currently in effect. Revised annually. Print version has a subject index and cross reference tables from the U.S. code, U.S. Statutes at Large, and public law numbers to sections in the CFR.
Source Coverage
Westlaw Campus Research 1984 to date
ProQuest Congressional 1980 to date (GPO) 1996 to date
Law Library of Congress 1938-1969
Proposed regulations and public comments. New proposals and updates will appear here before they appear in the CFR.
Source Coverage
Westlaw Campus Research v.1, 1936 to date
ProQuest Congressional 1981 to date (GPO) 1936 to date Current information only; track status of a regulation and comments

print - Remote & REF GVP US

AE2. 106:

Gives page numbers in the Federal Register and section numbers in the Code of Federal Regulations where changes have been made since the last time that section of the CFR was updated.
Source Coverage (GPO) 1997 to date
Consolidates information about the regulatory and deregulatory activities and their cost and impact on society.
Source Coverage 1994 to date
Source Coverage
Westlaw Campus Research varies by agency
Agency websites varies by agency
Source Coverage
Westlaw Campus Research varies by title

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