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Legislative History Research Guide

This guide collects major sources for conducting legislative history research, including committee reports, hearings, bills, debates and more.

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Overview

Legislative history is a term that refers to the documents that are produced by Congress as a bill is introduced, studied and debated. These legislative documents are often used by attorneys and courts in an attempt to determine Congressional intent or to clarify vague or ambiguous statutory language. All legislative documents are only persuasive legal authority. The legislative process that produces these documents can be quite complex. For details of the legislative process, read How Our Laws Are Made, by Charles W. Johnson, Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives.

This guide will first discuss the types of documents that come out of the legislative process and their use, and will then set out the methods of locating legislative documents for enacted and pending legislation. The Library has a comprehensive microfiche collection of legislative documents dating back to 1789 and finding aids both in print and on the web.

Types of Legislative Documents

Committee Reports are usually considered the most important legislative documents and contain more analysis than the other documents. Bills and Congressional Debates may also be relevant. The other legislative materials provide little information that would help you to determine legislative intent, although they often provide valuable background and factual information on the issue being addressed by the legislation.

If you are unsure about which Congress or year your law was passed, you may find it helpful to use the table of Years of Congress Conversion Table.

Legislative History Tutorials

Further Assistance