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Federal Legislative History  

Last Updated: Oct 3, 2012 URL: http://libguides.mcgeorge.edu/FedLegHistory Print Guide

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These are some of the most commonly used resources for finding and compiling legislative histories.

 

What is Legislative History and Why is it Important

The legislative history of a bill or statute is made up of the documentation produced by Congress during the legislative process.  A statute's legislative history, particularly debates and committee reports, can be used to demonstrate the Congress's intent in passing that statute.  Courts sometimes look to legislative intent when discerning the meaning of an ambiguously worded statute. 

Legislative histories are sometimes compiled by commercial publishers for particularly important legislation. Researchers can also assemble their own legislative histories by tracking down all of the Congressional documents pertaining to the statute in question. 

 

What Documents May Form Part of a Legislative History?

Committee reports (especially conference committee reports) and debates generally are accorded the greatest weight. 

Bills – Includes bills as introduced and amended at various times during the legislative process.  May provide evidence of the original intent and any deliberate additions or exclusions from the bill in related amendments.  Bills are numbered consecutively (by House or Senate) within each Congress. 

Committee Hearings – Transcripts of witness testimony heard before House and Senate committees.  This can illustrate leading considerations and issues that Congress was made aware of in the process leading up to the bill’s consideration.  May not exist for all bills. 

Committee Prints – These are documents prepared for the use of a given committee and may be research studies, background information, working copies of the bill or other documents.  Committee prints are not automatically published. 

Committee Reports – Reports from the committee to Congress explaining the bill’s purpose and the committee’s explanation and recommendations for the bill.  Reports are issued by House, Senate and Conference Committees.  They are numbered consecutively (by House or Senate) within each Congress.   Conference Committee reports often carry significant weight. 

Debates – This includes all floor activities.  Statements by the bill’s sponsor or by the chair of the committee that reported on the bill may be very useful in establishing intent, but individual comments made during debates are not necessarily proof of congressional intent. 

Presidential Signing Statements – These statements are delivered from the President to Congress and may give reasons for why the President signed or vetoed legislation.  While they do not give direct evidence of congressional intent, they can provide information about what the President thought about the legislation.

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