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Locating a Compiled Federal Legislative History: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialists.

Compiling a federal legislative history may seem daunting, but it does not have to be. We hope, through our last few Beginner’s Guides, that we have made this process easier for researchers.  There is another, possibly less complicated, option for finding legislative history documents that we wanted to be sure to highlight — determining whether someone has already done the work for you and created a legislative history report! There are many sources of pre-compiled legislative histories available that you will want to check before compiling your own. These compilations range from finding aids that help you locate a compiled legislative history to monographs that contain the legislative history for one act.

Compilations

Illustration shows Justice holding her scales, being buried under an avalanche of paper labeled Law as a Legislator at the top turns the crank spewing legislation from the U.S. Capitol. Chromolithograph by Keppler & Schwarzmann, J.Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg. (Created January 10, 1900). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.25384

Illustration shows Justice holding her scales, being buried under an avalanche of paper labeled Law as a Legislator at the top turns the crank spewing legislation from the U.S. Capitol. Chromolithograph by Keppler & Schwarzmann, J.Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg. (Created January 10, 1900). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.25384

Bernard D. Reams, Federal Legislative Histories: An Annotated Bibliography and Index to Officially Published Sources – This resource provides information about compiled legislative histories for legislation introduced in the 37th through the 101st Congresses (1862-1990).

Nancy P. Johnson, Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and BooksThe third edition of this resource, recently published, covers legislation from the 1st through the 113th Congresses. These compilations are also available through the HeinOnline subscription resource, discussed below.

Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C., “Legislative Histories of Selected U.S. Laws on the Internet: Free Sources” – The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) has, for several years, provided a helpful online guide to the compiled legislative history reports freely available on the Internet.  This guide is laid out both by popular name and by public law number of the legislation at issue.  LLSDC also provides a list of commercial resources that list compiled legislative histories, which can be accessed via subscription databases.

Monographs

Monographs containing compiled legislative histories for an individual piece of legislation are available in the Law Library of Congress collection. Simply use the advanced search feature of the Library of Congress online catalog, and search the term “legislative history” along with the popular name or public law number of the act in which you are interested.  For larger pieces of legislation, you can also use the browse feature of the online catalog to search for a legislative history-related subject heading.  To do so, simply select “SUBJECTS containing” from the pull-down menu to the left of the search box, type the popular name of the act and “legislative history” into the search box, and click “Search.”

Databases

ProQuest Legislative Insight (1789 – present). ProQuest Legislative Insight is a subscription resource that is centered around providing compiled legislative histories.  To determine if there is a compiled legislative history available for the piece of legislation at issue, input its U.S. Statutes at Large number, an enacted bill number, or public law number in the corresponding boxes on the homepage.  If there is a compiled legislative history available, a link will be provided.  ProQuest legislative history reports include links to full-text congressional floor debate, congressional committee reports, congressional committee hearings, and congressional committee prints.

HeinOnline is a subscription resource that contains a U.S. Federal Legislative History Library module, which is available to those who make an in-person visit to the Law Library of Congress. This module includes sources of compiled legislative histories from 1789 to the present and individual legislative histories, searchable by bill number, public law number, and popular name largely covering the years 1870 to the present.

While these might not be all of the resources that provide compiled legislative histories, we hope they can give you a good start with your legislative history research. If you have a question, please contact us through our Ask A Librarian service.

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