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Federal Legislative History

This guide will discuss the types of documents that comes from the legislative process and the steps taken to locate legislative documents.


A bill, as introduced, reported on, and acted upon by either or both houses, provides information by its language on the original intent. Often, before the final version of a bill is reported to the floor, a committee will consider alternative versions of proposed amendments. Comparison of enacted language to earlier versions of the bill or in rejected amendments can sometimes be used to infer the intent of the final version. Bills introduced in each Congress are numbered consecutively in separate serires for the House and Senate. Note, too, that the bill number is one of the keys to tracing legislative history.

S. 25, 98th Cong. (1983)

H.R. 1401, 94th Cong. (1976)

The following websites are some of the first places to check for bills.


Transcripts of the testimony of witnesses before House and Senate committees may be illustrative of issues considered through the hearing process. Their usefulness is limited by the large amount of testimony pro and con on many bills and the difficulty in establishing a connection between particular remarks made at the hearing and the final language of the bill. Hearings are an early step in the legislative process. Hearings are not held on all pieces of legislation and even if held may not be published.

Hearings, if published, are done so individually and some of the first places to check include the following websites.

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