Research guides

Federal Legislative History


The documents used to compile a legislative history are often reproduced and published in different digital, print, or microfiche sources, each of which vary in scope and availability. The resources listed below are available through government websites, through databases accessible with your Jenkins membership, or in print at Jenkins Law Library. More information on where to find each type of document and the scope of sources is available in the Congressional Documents guide.

See the database-specific pages of this guide for tips and direction on using Jenkins' member databases to compile a federal legislative history.

Key Terms

Act - "the formal product of a legislature or other deliberative body exercising its powers." Act, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). An act is the appropriate term for the bill after it has been enacted by legislature into law.

Bill - "a legislative proposal offered for debate before its enactment." Bill, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

Legislative History - "the proceedings leading to the enactment of a statute, including hearings, committee reports, and floor debates." Legislative History, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Such history is important to courts when they determine the legislative intent of a particular statute.

Public Law - "a statute affecting the general public. . . . Federal public laws are first published in the Statutes at Large and are eventually collected by subject in the U.S. Code." Public Law, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

Statute - "a law passed by a legislative body; specif., legislation enacted by any lawmaking body, such as legislature, administrative board, or municipal court." Statute, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Although a synonym for act, this term is sometimes used when referring to the codified versions of the law. Technically, acts or statutes that have been arranged by subject are known as compiled statutes.  A codified section in the compiled statutes may be made up of one or more acts.  Acts themselves are usually split into many codified laws, depending upon the subject of each section of the act. 

Document Types

Hearing - "any proceeding in which legislators or their designees receive testimony about legislation that might be enacted." Hearing, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

Committee Report - "a report from a committee to a deliberative assembly on business referred to the committee or on a matter otherwise under its charge." Report, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

Committee Prints - different types of material pulled together for committee use. Prints may include everything from "staff studies to compilations of legislative history documents. Some prints contain statements by committee members on pending bills. Others can be useful analyses of laws under a committee's jurisdiction" Morris L. Cohen & Kent C. Olson, Legal Research in a Nutshell 139 (12th ed. 2016)

Congressional Research Service (CRS) - a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress that provides policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. (Congressional Research Service Careers)

Congressional Debate or Floor Debate - "the legislative process of debating a proposed bill before an entire chamber rather than before a committee." Debate, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).