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Federal Legislative History

This guide provides an overview of how to locate federal legislative history.

Introduction

Federal legislative history can provide researchers with information about the legislative intent or clarify terms regarding an act of federal legislation.  This guide provides an overview of how to locate federal legislative history.

Getting Started

A legislative history is a collection of the documents that were created during the legislative process.  This chart gives a clear overview of the path a piece of proposed legislation must travel in order to become a law.

The Federal legislative process is well-documented, and it may be useful to search for legislative history documents explaining why a particular bill was introduced or law was passed.

If you are fortunate, you may find that someone has already compiled a legislative history on the law you are researching. See the section on finding a previously compiled legislative history.

Most of these stages can produce documents, which may or may not be available.  Bills can also cycle through the stages more than once, so you may need to find more than one committee report for the same bill, for example. 

Many legislative histories have already been compiled, so if you need a legislative history for a particular law or bill, it's wise to look first to see if you can find a complete one before beginning the process of assembling one yourself.

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