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Government Resources: Legislative History

State Legislative Histories (online)

Most states allow access to full text of bills from the current legislative session and you can often search back several years.  However, other materials such as hearings, debates, reports are often more difficult to locate.  To  locate in either in print or online, you need to check each individual state’s availability.  Both formats are often rare and the open access for the federal bills is often not applicable for state bills.  To research a history of a bill, you need to do some searching and perhaps visit state offices.

To assist those who are conducting legislative histories for state laws or bills, Jennifer Bryan, Documents Librarian at Indiana University School of Law Library, has assembled a guide which includes the legislative history guides for all states; see the State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web

Other sites include some links to bills and reports in addition to other information:

· Cornell LII: laws/bills by jurisdiction.  If choose the legislature and links to pending bills, you can search for bills and some legislative history materials (reports, hearings, etc.).  However, the materials which are available depend upon the state.

· Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C.: State Legislatures, State Laws, and State Regulations: this website lists each state with links to the homepage of the state legislature which often includes schedules, bill/law information, and committee materials.  Links to each states' laws and regulations are often available.

Lastly, some databases include access to the text of bills and legislative history materials:

·LexisNexis: If locate advanced search—select browse sources at top of search bar—narrow search by content type (legislative histories, bill tracking, or bill text).  Such search restrictions are available for most of the 50 states.  You can choose from the results or narrow by jurisdiction on the left hand side of the screen.  The coverage dates vary by state and you can click on the link for the state to verify dates.

·  Westlaw:  If select legislative history and then a state, you can view select materials.  Depending upon the state,  few materials (e.g. bill analysis, reports, journals, governor notes) are available.  Note, few states have materials available through Westlaw.


State Legislative Histories (print)

If you are looking to compile a state legislative history on a bill, some of the following resources can guide you....

Tips: Enacted law and Identifying Documents

If you encounter a bill that was not enacted into law OR there is not a compiled legislative history, you will need to search further for relevant legislative documents.  Look at the following sources as they often can lead to relevant materials; the bill may be mentioned throughout its travel in the legislative process.  Most of these sources can be located through electronic databases or in print.

  • U.S. Statutes at Large (slip laws)
  • Congressional Record
  • House & Senate Calendars
  • House & Senate Journals
  • ProQuest Congressional

If a bill was enacted into law, it can be a bit easier to find relevant materials and there may also be a compiled legislative history.  If not, you can search the above sources for relevant documents to build the federal legislative history.

Relevant Documents:

Bills from either House in its various forms (introduced, amended, or passed in either/both houses).  The following documents are usually found within electronic databases and on free websites.

    • Committee reports
    • Committee hearings
    • Congressional debates
    • Committee prints (studies about a topic)
    • Presidential/agency documents

How a Bill becomes a Law

Image attributed to: American Psychological Association (APA),

Legislative Histories (online)

The legislative history resources on this page relate to federal bills or laws with the exception of specific state resources.

This resource is located within the electronic database HeinOnline, but you can also access through NUSL ScholarOne search.  The database covers the legislative histories which resulted from the 1st Congress (1789-1791) to the 112th Congress (2011-2012).  You can browse the U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection where Acts are available in PDF form; Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database where each session of Congress contains a listing of acts and associated public law and bill numbers; you can also browse by public law.  Some helpful tools and training are offered by HeinOnline to navigate a U.S. Federal Legislative History.  This is a great resource to browse acts which cover a single session or several sessions of Congress and can acts view in a PDF format. (law school only)

This electronic database includes the history of a bill, amendment, executive order, and other legislation.  The coverage is more limited (2006-current) and limited years of 2002, 2005, and 2008. To access the federal legislative bill history, click on browse sources; select jurisdiction U.S. Federal and content type Statutes and Legislation; and on the far right is Federal Legislative Bill History.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set 1817-1980

This electronic database is available through NU and includes essential Congressional documents such as committee reports, hearings, executive reports, and treaties (after 1978). (law school only)

Westlaw includes.........................

  • The legislative history of U.S. Code laws   as printed in USCCAN (1948-1990); includes reports on enacted and failed bills (starting in 1990), legislative history of securities law (starting in 1933), and presidential signing statements as printed in USCCAN (starting in 1986).
  • Some additional information is found in the U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative Service (USCAAN) such as legislative history reports (since 1948) and presidential statements (since 1986); coverage depends upon the type of document. 
  • The GAO Legislative History Collection  includes a multitude of legislative histories from 1921-1995 which were gathered by the former General Accounting Office (GAO) (now the Government Accountability Office).  Westlaw added the histories (1921-1995) to its electronic database.

Also, Westlaw provides some other resources if gathering documents for a legislative history..........

  • The Congressional Record (beginning in 1985)
  • U.S. Congressional Testimony includes transcripts of oral statements, written statements given to committees, and agendas for committee hearings.  Coverage begins in 1993, some coverage from 1993-1996, and more coverage from 1996-present.

Video: Database Overview for Legislative Histories

Other Resources


Image attributed to: Amazon/Thomson West at

Legislative law and process in a nutshell

Call Number: KF4933.Z9 D38 2007

Publisher: Thomson/West

 This book offers an overview of how the legislative process operates through the steps beginning with the initial idea for a bill to the final passed bill.  The processes, procedures and tactics involved with a bill passing or failing are also discussed.  In addition, the after life of a bill where it is subjected to interpretation and misapplication by agencies, courts, and people is also included.


Compiled Legislative Histories (print)


U.S. Congressional & Administrative News (USCAAN)

Call Number: KF48.W45

Publisher: West Publishing Company

This government publication includes enacted public laws, some Congressional committee reports, select presidential orders and statements.  The key aspect of this resource is its legislative history for select public laws; includes information such as Statutes at Large citations, committee reports to assist with legislative intent, dates of approval and similar information.  Updates to the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and full text of new federal laws are also included.

This resource is updated each Congressional session with bi-weekly sheets and bound into volumes at the end of each session.  NUSL’s print collection covers from 1944 to present.

Sources of compiled legislative histories: a bibliography of government documents, periodical articles, and books, 1st Congress-114th Congress

Call Number: KF42.2 2018

Publisher: West Publishing Company

This print resource covers collections of legislative histories which are arranged by topic rather than Public Law number.  Some additional features include background materials, sources of histories, bibliography, and an index.  The compilation covers through the 110th Congress.

Congressional Information Service, Inc. (CIS) (Annuals/Abstracts)

Call Number: KF49.C62

Another compiled legislative history but various formats comprise this resources.  CIS includes an index to locate legislation where action occurs after a bill's introduction.  The Annuals/Abstracts volumes include the steps of the bill (e.g. hearing, reports) and if the bill is passed into law, the legislative history provides citations to documents which are a part of the history. A microfiche part may also be referred to and includes documents which comprise the history of the bill.  This publication began in 1970.

An electronic version of the CIS Index/Abstracts and access to some of the microfiche documents are available in Proquest Congressional.