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Law Research Guide: Legislative Materials

Legislative Materials

Use these sources to find legislation and legislative history materials

 

Statutes at Large photo - by Coolcaesar https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Statutes_at_Large.jpg

 

Statutes are legislation as passed by a governing body. They are “the law” as it is written. Legislators write bills, which may be edited and amended by committees before they are passed. Passed bills are then signed into law (or vetoed and do not become law) by the President. The statutes are then arranged in the chronological order in they were passed in The Statutes at Large.

Public and private laws are also known as slip laws. A slip law is an official publication of the law and is competent evidence admissible in all state and Federal courts and tribunals of the United States. Public laws affect society as a whole, while private laws affect an individual, family, or small group.

After the President signs a bill into law, it is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where it is assigned a law number, legal statutory citation (public laws only), and prepared for publication as a slip law. Private laws receive their legal statutory citations when they are published in the United States Statutes at Large.

Prior to publication as a slip law, OFR also prepares marginal notes and citations for each law, and a legislative history for public laws only. Until the slip law is published, through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), the text of the law can be found by accessing the enrolled version of the bill.

US Code photo - by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/15966987237

Codes are the codified version of laws--they are "the law" arranged by subject. The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Code was first published in 1926. The next main edition was published in 1934, and subsequent main editions have been published every six years since 1934. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published in order to present the most current information.

Of the 51 titles, 25 have been enacted into positive (statutory) law. These titles are 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, and 51. When a title of the Code was enacted into positive law, the text of the title became legal evidence of the law. Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large still govern.

 

You can research the history and intent of leglislation by reviewing a variety of Congressional documents and reports, as well as the introduced bills.

 

Senate Bills and House Bills

Congressional bills are legislative proposals from the House of Representatives and Senate within the United States Congress. There are six different types of bills.

House bills (H.R.) and Senate bills (S.) require the approval of both chambers (ie House and Senate) and the signature of the President to become law.

House Joint Resolutions (H.J. Res.) and Senate Joint Resolutions (S.J. Res.) require the approval of both chambers and the signature of the President. Joint resolutions generally are used for limited matters, such as a single appropriation for a specific purpose and to propose amendments to the Constitution.

House Concurrent Resolutions (H. Con. Res.) and Senate Concurrent Resolutions (S. Con. Res.) require the approval of both chambers but do not require the signature of the President and do not have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions generally are used to make or amend rules that apply to both chambers.

House Simple Resolutions (H. Res.) and Senate Simple Resolutions (S. Res.) address matters entirely within the prerogative of one chamber or the other. They do not require the approval of the other chamber or the signature of the President, and they do not have the force of law.

There are numerous different bill versions that track a bill through the legislative process from introduction through passage by both chambers (enrolled version). All final published bill versions are available from GPO. 

 

House & Senate Reports & Documents (Serial Set), Hearings, Committee Prints
Congressional Documents types include House Documents, Senate Documents, and Senate Treaty Documents. House and Senate documents contain various kinds of materials ordered to be printed by both chambers of Congress. Documents can include reports of executive departments and agencies, as well as committee prints, that were ordered to be printed as documents. Senate Treaty Documents contain the text of a treaty as it is submitted to the U. S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States

Congressional reports originate from congressional committees and deal with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. There are two types of reports:

  • House and Senate Reports: Reports of congressional committees concerning proposed legislation and/or contain findings on matters under investigation.
  • Senate Executive Reports: Reports of the Committee on Foreign Relations relating to treaties between the United States and foreign nations which have been submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification, or are reports of various Senate committees regarding nomination of individuals.

A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest. Most congressional hearings are published two months to two years after they are held.

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the "Daily Digest," which summarizes the day's floor and committee activities.

 

Additional legislative history tools