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Legislative History (Federal & State): Compiled legislative histories (Start Here)

A guide to finding state and federal legislative documents and performing legislative history research.

Why Use Compiled Legislative Histories

When doing any type of research, the best step is always to see what is already out there for you to use. Fortunately, when it comes to legislative history there are many resources which have already collected and organized the legislative materials on a given law.

There are three kinds of sources of compiled legislative histories discussed on this page. The best possible source is a compilation of all of the documents in their full text. The second best would be a partial compilation of full-text documents.  Finally, a formal or informal list of citations to the legislative history documents can be useful.

Other Compilations or Resources

Other Compilations

Citations

While not as amazing as a formal compiled histories for legislation, lists or groupings of citations to legislative documents can be very helpful.

Being able to find just a list of citations sounds like a waste of time, but it is much better than starting from scratch. Once you have a citation, you can go to the document sources provided in this guide and run a very quick search.   

This information can include: sponsor(s); cosponsor(s); official, short and popular titles, floor/executive actions, Congressional Record page references, summary of the bill's language, committee information, amendment information, and subjects.

  • For example, looking at law journal article on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might discuss bill drafts, hearings, or committee reports on the law. While these discussions are not likely to be exhaustive, they can provide you with one of more citations to use when getting started.
  • You may also want to look for a research guide pertaining to a particular law. A research guide (or LibGuide like this one) on the Clean Water Act (CWA) may provide information about the legislative materials related to the passing of the Act.
  • You may also want to look at bill the tracking and legislative summary tools on this LibGuide.  Under the "Finding Legislative Documents" tab, select "Bills."

Complete Full-Text Compilations

Considerable research time can be saved if a legislative history has already been compiled for the law in question. Compiled legislative histories are of two types: those assembled for selected laws by previous researchers, and those issued on a regular continuing basis by commercial sources.

Below is a list of commercial resources which provide full text materials of all of the legislative history documents available for Acts covered in their database. 

Partial Compilations: USCCAN

Some commercial legislative resources compile non-exhaustive collections of legislative materials.

The classic source for partial legislative histories is U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN).  This source will give you what the editors believe are the most important documents.  This makes USCCAN a great source when you need a legislative history in a hurry. 

Search the field "TO" (topic) using terms and connectors to search for a Public Law number and name. When you are in a document, look at the navigation on the left side for ways to jump right to the legislative documents.