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Federal Legislative Histories

What is a law's legislative history?

A legislative history consists of the documents generated during the legislative process. These documents are a record of legislative intent and the people involved. Legislative intent - the rationale and purpose for the legislative body to enact the law - is important for both judicial and administrative interpretation of the law.  Histories include information about all congressional action in both chambers related to a bill and the vote and passage of the bill into law, and related information, such as Presidential statements.

Items Commonly Included in a Legislative History

Introduction: 

  • Bill number 
  • Congress session 
  • Introduced by 
  • Date introduced 
  • Committee referred to 
  • Committee hearings 
  • Committee prints 
  • Date reported 
  • Report number 
  • Debate on pages of Congressional Record volume
  • Date of passage 

In other chamber:

  • Committee referred to 
  • Committee hearings 
  • Committee prints 
  • Date reported 
  • Report number 
  • Debate on pages of Congressional Record volume
  • Date of passage 
  • Conference report number (if any) 

Vote and passage:

  • Vote in Congressional Record 
  • Presidential statements 
  • Date approved 
  • Title of law 
  • Public Law number 
  • Location in U.S. Statutes at Large 
  • Location in U.S. Code 
  • Related congressional publications (from CRS, CBO, or GAO, for example) 
  • Related Executive Branch publications 
  • Sources of background information