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Legislative Research - Federal: Legislation

Research Path

Start with any version of the federal code to locate the public law(s) creating or amending the section of the code you are interested in. You will find this information at the end of each code section.  Public laws are cited to by Congressional session and chronological number of the bill passed, (e.g., 98-123 is the 123rd bill signed into law during the 98th Congress), and published in the order passed in United States Statutes at Large (Stat.).  You may also want to note any cases or law review articles listed in the code, since these may contain information on legislative intent.  Three versions of the code are available:

United States Code (USC) - the official version of the code, published by the United States Government

United States Code Annotated (USCA) - published by West, this annotated version of the code contains legal notes and research guides.

United States Code Service (USCS) - published by LexisNexis, this annotated version of the code contains legal notes and research guides.

All three versions are available online, while the latest print versions of USCS and USCA are available in the Reference collection.

Online:

In the Library:

Search by keyword or by citation. Look to see if a legislative history has been compiled for the Public Law in question.  Most public laws as printed will also include citations for documents directly related to the law (e.g., bill versions, Congressional Record citations).  However, prepared legislative histories will provide more in-depth coverage, including citations for debates, related bills, hearings, and committe prints.  

In the Library:

Searching the library catalog for "legislative history," along with the name of the law (i.e., "Clean Air Act")  in question can also yield useful results. To browse all library titles with the "Legislative Histories" subject tag, click here.

Print Indexes: Bills

Congressional Record:

Laws:

Bills:

Committee Hearings, Reports and Documents:

Law Review Articles

Law review articles are another source for legislative history commentary and citations.  The library has access to several resources for finding law articles.  Law article citations can also be found in the notes sections of annotated versions of the US Code, such as the USCA USCS.

Online:

The Legislative Process

Illustrated flow chart of how a federal bill becomes law.

How Our Laws are Made. (Wirth & Cooper, 2010) Click graphic to enlarge.

  1. Bill is introduced in the House (H.R.####) or Senate (S.####).

  2. Bill is assigned to a committee.

  3. The committee may let the bill die or hold hearings and mark up the bill.

  4. The committee votes to report the bill and writes a report on its thought process.

  5. The bill is sent to the floor of its originating house for debate and voting.

  6. Once a bill passes in its originating house, it is called an engrossed bill.  It is sent to the other house and the same process begins again.  Once it is sent to the other house, it is called an act.

  7. If the two houses disagree on aspects of the bill, they may have a conference to resolve disputes.  They will draft a report showing how they came to their conclusions.

  8. Once the bill passes both houses, it is called an "enrolled act."

  9. The enrolled act is sent to the President for who will either sign or veto it.