The following is a guest post by Shameema Rahman, Legal Reference Specialist in our Public Services Division. Her most recent post was: Using Secondary Legal Resources to Locate Primary Sources.
As a Law Library of Congress reference librarian I am often asked this question by our patrons. THOMAS and the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) website are great sources for locating bills. However, they are not without their limits. The THOMAS Search Bill Text from Multiple Congresses tool goes back to the 101st Congress (1989-1990) while GPO’s Congressional bills page makes bills available back to the 103rd Congress (1993-1994).
The question then, is where does one find older bills? As part of the Law Library’s mission to make its resources available to researchers world-wide, the Law Library collaborated with the Library of Congress to digitize Congressional bills and make them available on A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website. This site includes Bills and Resolutions from the House of Representatives between the 6th Congress (1799-1800) and the 42nd Congress (1871-1873); and Senate bills and resolutions from the 16th Congress (1819-1820) and Senate joint resolutions from the 18th to the 42nd Congress.
And what of the bills issued between the 42nd Congress and 101st Congress, you may ask. There is no electronic source for these bills. The Law Library of Congress’s holdings include bills and resolutions from this time both in print and microform. Harvard’s Widener Library has a collection of Congressional bills and resolutions between 1789-1933 available in microfiche. Other libraries which have selected collections of Congressional bills and resolutions include Federal Depository libraries.
Using Congressional Record Index volumes is the easiest way to locate bill numbers on any specific subject. This publication offers researchers various options of locating relevant information. You may conduct your Index search by a Member of Congress or by subject. If you are interested in any specific year, you may use the Index volume for that year only. If you know the bill number and the year of introduction of the bill, you may use the ‘History of Bills and Resolutions’ section of Index. From 1873 to the present, each volume contains a ‘History of Bills and Resolutions’ section, which includes citations to relevant floor debate as well as congressional reports and documents. This information will be particularly useful when you compile the legislative history of a bill.