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District of Columbia In-Depth

This State Guide provides an in-depth look at sources of law within the District of Columbia.

Session Laws

Permanent Acts. A bill becomes an act after the Mayor signs it. This permanent act is given a number preceded by an "A" (e.g., A15-390). After congressional and presidential approval, it becomes Law and is given a law number with an "L" (e.g., L15-155). This Law may amend, repeal, or transfer code sections and will be incorporated in the District of Columbia Official Code.

Emergency Acts. An Emergency Act is adopted by a two-thirds vote of the D.C. Council. It does not go through the Committee stage and does not require a second reading. It is only valid for 90 days. It is not subject to congressional approval or pre-publication in the D.C. Register. Identified with an "E" appearing in the act number (e.g., 15E-1), they are always treated as notes in the D.C. Code.

Temporary Acts. A temporary act can be passed along with the emergency act and it remains valid for no more than 225 days. Identified with a "T" appearing in the act number (e.g., 15T-61), it may be treated as notes to Code sections.

Resolutions. Resolutions are used to express simple determinations or decisions of the Council that are of a temporary or special character. A proposed resolution is treated like a bill, except that only one vote of the Council is required. It does not require the Mayor's signature or Congressional review. They are identified with a "R" or "PR" in the act number (e.g., R 15-4 or PR 15-4). "R" stands for Resolution, "PR" stands for Proposed Resolution.

Some acts may amend an agency rule, and these will be incorporated in the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR).

Where to find ACTS and LAWS?

  • Council of the District of Columbia Legislative Information Management System (LIMS) (8th Council Period - present) 
    It is a searchable and browsable database of full-text bills, proposed and adopted resolutions, and acts. It also gives status information. Laws can be searched by keyword, and browsed by number, by Council Member, or by Committee.
  • District of Columbia Session Law Service (Thomson/West)
    Includes laws and emergency acts. It is available:
  • District of Columbia Code: Advance Legislative Service (LexisNexis)
    It includes laws and emergency acts. It is available:
  • District of Columbia Session Laws
  • District of Columbia Statutes-at-Large KFD1225.D4 (1976-1986, ceased publication)
    Contains the text of D.C. laws, resolutions and Mayor's Orders
     
  • Legislative Services Division
    The Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050) also makes laws and acts available.

Subject Compilations

All the above acts are published chronologically. To facilitate research for current laws, laws are compiled by subject. Like the U.S. Code and state codes, the District of Columbia Code is a subject compilation of enacted legislation, divided into titles, chapters and sections. However, unlike most state codes, the D.C. Code also contains federal statutes which have an impact on the District of Columbia.

There are two D.C. Code publications:

District of Columbia Official Code, published by LexisNexis. The current edition is the 2001 edition (2013 republication commemorating 40 years of Home Rule for the District of Columbia). It is an annotated version, with legislative history information, references to related statutes and case annotations. A subject index provides topical access. A "Tables" volume provides a Comparative Sections table, a disposition table, a popular name table, a District of Columbia Register Table, an emergency act table, D.C. Law not codified table, and United States Code Table. The Code is updated by annual pocket parts and "Advance Legislative Service" (updated quarterly).

West's District of Columbia Code Annotated, published by Thomson West. The current edition is the 2001 edition. It is an unofficial D.C. Code. It is also annotated, with legislative history information, references to related statutes and case annotations. A subject index provides topical access. The General index provides subject access to the Code. A separate "Tables" volume provides parallel references to earlier (1981 and 1973) editions, a disposition table, a popular name table, a District of Columbia Register Table, an emergency act table, and a D.C. Laws not codified table. The Code is updated by annual pocket parts (published in June) and black paperback "Interim Update Services" (published in October and February).

Where to find the D.C. Code?

The Legislative Process

The District of Columbia has a single house legislature called the Council. There are 13 council members - a representative from each of the eight wards and four members elected at large, and the Chair. The Council was given power to enact laws, but D.C. legislation and budgets are still subject to Congressional and presidential approval.

Introduction of Bills. A bill is introduced by Council members. The Mayor can request the introduction of a bill and the Chair of the Council may introduce that bill as a courtesy. The Bill is given a bill number such as B15-0606, "Choice in Drug Treatment Advisory Commission Amendment Act of 2004" and assigned to the appropriate committee(s). The bill number tells us that it is the 606th bill introduced in the 15th Council Period (Each Council Period lasts for 2 years, starting January 2nd of an odd-numbered year and lasts through January 1st of the following odd-numbered year).

Committee Stage. The Council Chair assigns the bill to the appropriate committee(s). If a public hearing or roundtable is held, a notice will be published in the D.C. Register for public comment 15 days in advance of a scheduled public hearing. The committee may mark up the bill and vote to recommend that the Council approve or disapprove the bill. The committee may take no action and let the bill die. If the committee reports the bill out, the Council officers review the legislation and report to the Committee of the Whole whether the record is complete and in proper legal or technical order. Council members do not debate the bill at this stage, but can ask for clarification or explanations. The Chairman will place the bill on the legislative meeting agenda with the approval of the Committee of the Whole.

First Reading. At the legislative meeting, Members debate the bill and can offer amendments. If the majority of those present votes no, the bill dies. If the majority votes yes, the bill passes the first reading and is scheduled for a second reading at another legislative meeting. The majority may vote to table the bill or return it to committee for reconsideration.

Second Reading. Council takes a second vote. If the majority votes no, the bill dies. If the majority votes yes, the bill passes.

Mayor. The Mayor has ten days to sign the bill at which point, the bill becomes an act (e.g. A15-390). If the Mayor does not take any action within ten days, the bill becomes an act. The Mayor can veto the bill and return it to the Council. Council, however, may override the Mayor's veto with a two-thirds majority vote within 30 days.

Congress. The Council chair transmits the act to the U.S. Congress to review for 30 legislative days (for criminal acts, Congress has 60 legislative days). If Congress takes no action, the act becomes alaw (e.g. L15-155). Congress can pass a joint resolution disapproving the act. The joint resolution has to be approved by the President.

Further Information:

  • For a succinct graphic illustration of how a bill becomes a law, consult page I-61 of Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia (2d ed. 2000) (KF240 .C43 2000).
  • The District of Columbia Council also provides a comprehensive verbal description of how a bill becomes a law.

Where to find Bills and Bill Information?

  • District of Columbia Register (DCR)
    It is the official publication of the D.C. government for acts, resolutions, and various information about the actions of the Council of the District of Columbia (such as resolutions and notices of council hearings), and actions of the Executive Branch and Independent Agencies (such as proposed rulemaking and emergency rulemaking). It comes out every week during Council Period (mid-September to mid-July). It has an annual index.
     
  • Lexis
  • Westlaw
    • DC-BILLS (current only, track and view full text of all available bills)
    • DC-LH (Bill histories, committee reports, and vote records from 1999 to present)
  • Council of the District of Columbia Legislative Information Management System (LIMS)
    It is a searchable and browseable database of full-text bills, proposed and adopted resolutions, and acts. It also gives status information. Laws can be searched by keyword, and browsed by number, by Council Member, or by Committee (8th Council Period, 1989 - present).
  • Subject Index to Bills (KFD1210 .S9, 1982-1995, 2003, now cancelled) provides subject access to bills and bill title, bill number, D.C. Act number, D.C. Law number, and DCR citation.
  • Council Calendar
    Daily schedule, legislative agenda, hearing notices, oversight and budget schedule, and council and committee meetings.
  • Legislative Meeting Agenda (LIMS) 
    Provides agendas of meetings (14th Council Period, 2001 to present).

Legislative History

Unlike Federal legislative history documents, D.C. legislative history documents are not widely available.

In any version of the D.C. Code, at the end of each code section, there is a citation to the District of Columbia Register for the text of the Act; there is also a legislative history notes section which gives you the Bill, Act, and Law numbers, which are useful for retrieving the full text of the bill and other legislative history documents. The Official Code (and the Westlaw version) also tells you the committee to which the bill was referred.

Legislative History Documents:

  • Legislative History includes
     
    • The Bill as introduced, the version of the bill adopted by the Standing committee, the version adopted on the First Reading, the version adopted by final vote, and the purpose and background of the bill.
    • Committee Reports: Committee Reports are not prepared for every piece of legislation.
      • Westlaw: DC-LH (Bill histories, committee reports, and vote records from 1999 to present)
      • D.C Council, Legislative Information Management System (LIMS) (1989 -)
      • The Legislative Services Division maintains files of committee reports, 202-724-8050.
    • Committee and and Public Hearings:
      • On Demand Video (OCT TV 13): Videos of meetings and hearings from April 2003 to present.
      • Legislative Services Division
        • The Legislative Services Division maintains tapes of hearings from 1975 to the present. Hearings are not transcribed. To request the tapes, you must submit a memo stating the name of the Committee and the date the hearing was held. You must also provide the appropriate number of 120-minute cassette tapes.
          • Committee and Public Hearing Files: Every committee maintains a file on every action item taken by the committee, including the public hearing witness list, public testimony and correspondence received, government testimony, amendments, and the committee vote.
          • The Legislative Services Division, 202-724-8050.
             
    • Legislative Meeting transcripts

      • The Legislative Services Division, 202-724-8050.

Tips for Finding Law on Your Issue

Finding the Sections:

Now that you know how bills are enacted and how laws are published and compiled, the first place to find the law is the D.C. Code. You may be tempted to go straight to Lexis or Westlaw. Lexis and the web version are convenient to use if you have the citation. The electronic versions are usually more up-to-date, minimizing the need to update what you have already obtained. If all you have is a legal issue and you want to find which sections of the D.C. Code deal with it, the print version and Westlaw are more user-friendly because of the Index, which allows you to look up a legal concept by keyword. The print version also has various finding aids.

Updating your Sections:

If you have access to Lexis or Westlaw, you can KeyCite (on Westlaw) or Shepardize (on Lexis) your D.C. Code section.

If you are using the print D.C. Code, you will have to check for any laws that have been passed since the last update of the D.C. Code, which is usually a few months out of date.

The bound volumes of the D.C. Official Code were published in 2001. These bound volumes are supplemented by pocket parts (which reside in a pocket on the inside of the back book cover) and, in some instances, supplementary pamphlets, which are in turn supplemented by the "Session Law Service" (which is shelved at the end of the set).

The bound volumes of the unofficial Lexis D.C. Code were published in 2001. These bound volumes are supplemented by pocket parts called "Supplements" (which reside in a pocket on the inside of the back book cover), which are in turn supplemented by pale brown paperback "Advance Legislative Service" (which is shelved at the end of the set).

Even if you are using an electronic version, you may have to check for any pending legislation that will affect your section. That's when you have to look up bills and bill information. Additionally, Keycite and Shepard's now indicate whether a particular Code section may be affected by pending legislation.

District of Columbia Code Finding Aids :

Both the official and the Lexis versions of the D.C. Code in print have a separate General Index volume and another volume containing all of the following tables:

United States Code Table
Unlike most state codes, D.C. Code Annotated contains federal statutes which have an impact on the District of Columbia. This table indicates those sections of the D.C. Code which are also included in the United States Code.

D.C. Laws Not Codified Table
Not all D.C. Laws enacted by the Council are codified. This table accounts for those since January 1, 1982, which are not codified in the D.C. Code but have been published in the District of Columbia Register (DCR).

Emergency Act Table
Emergency Acts are adopted by a two-thirds vote of the D.C. Council. They are only valid for 90 days. They do not require a second reading. Nor are they subject to congressional approval or pre-publication in the DC Register. Identified with an "E" appearing in the prefix of the act number (e.g., 15E-1), they are always treated as notes in the D.C. Code. This table lists emergency acts chronologically by the date of enactment and gives the D.C. Code section where the act was noted.

District of Columbia Register Table
A bill becomes an Act when it is passed and signed by the Mayor. An Act will become a Law upon congressional approval. These laws are published in the District of Columbia Register. The table indicates, by citing to the District of Columbia Register, the disposition of the D.C. Laws in the 1981 edition and 2001 edition.

Popular Name Table
The table is an alphabetical list of names of acts, with dates and citations of the acts.

Disposition Table
This table lists all enactments (including old British statutes, old Virginia statutes, U.S. Statutes at Large, and D.C. Laws) which affect sections of the D.C. Code appearing in the 1981 edition. Using the Disposition Table, one can determine the disposition of the act in the 1981 and 2001 edition.

Comparative Sections OR Parallel Reference Table
This table compares sections of the 1981 Edition of the District of Columbia Code to their respective sections of the 2001 Edition, and the sections of the 1973 edition to the 1981 edition.