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Federal Legislative History Research: Overview
This guide will outline the resources available at the University of Missouri School of Law for federal legislative history research.
The legislative history of a law is the sequence of steps taken to arrive at the final version of the law along with the documents reflecting that history. One of the purposes in compiling a legislative history is to try to ascertain what the legislature intended in authoring the bill, or the purpose and meaning of specific legislative language. Legislative history is evidence that members of the legislative body were aware of particular issues and facts. Lawyers and judges differ on the weight they give to legislative intent in regard to statutory interpretation. All legislative documents are only persuasive legal authority.
Types of Documents
Bill or Act in various versions, e.g. as introduced, as reported out of committee, as sent to the president, etc.
Hearing Records: Witnesses oral/written statements, committee Q&As, statements and exhibits submitted by interested parties.
Committee Prints: Research reports prepared by committee staff, consultants, the Library of Congress, and others.
House or Senate Documents: Miscellaneous category including communications from the President, reports of committee activities, etc.
Committee Reports: Description & analysis of the bill, discussion of its background, committee's findings/recommendations, text of recommended bill, minority views, recommended costs.
Floor Debates & Proceedings: Statements made and/or actions taken in a chamber of Congress.
Presidential Messages: Signing statements or veto messages.
Relative Importance of Materials
Committee reports are generally given the most weight in determining legislative intent, because they are produced by the committee to which Congress has delegated the responsibility for detailed study and recommendation.
Changes of language in the bill as it is amended are given high significance.
Other documents, though less valuable than reports or the variant text of bills, may shed light on the context in which legislators considered the bill in question:
Legislative debates in theCongressional Record may include statements by a bill’s sponsors or the chairs of the committees considering the bills, which are given more weight than comments by Representatives or Senators not involved with the specific bill. However, statements may be contradictory (making it difficult to infer the intent) and can be altered prior to publication.
Hearings must be used critically since testimony includes both that of disinterested experts and highly partisan interest groups.
Committee prints are prepared by committee staff for use by legislators; as such, they cannot reflect intent, but nonetheless can be enlightening.
House and Senate Documents (available in the Serial Set, see #3 under “Legislative Process” above) often consist of executive reports and proposals which may be useful for understanding bills proposed by the executive branch.
Provides searchable full-text PDFs for Public Laws and for all preceding bills, along with relevant portions of the Congressional Record, committee hearings, reports, and prints. Also included are Presidential signing statements, Congressional Research Service reports, and other congressional publications related to the law.
Indexes and provides full text access to government information dating to 1789. Content is sourced mainly from Congress and its committees, but some executive branch reports to Congress are also included. Document types include hearings, congressional committee prints, House and Senate documents and reports, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and more. For a complete description of ProQuest Congressional contents, coverage, and update frequency, consult the Content Coverage Chart on the database’s main search screen.
This collection features the complete Congressional Record Bound version, as well as the daily version back to 1980. It also includes the three predecessor titles: Annals of Congress (1789-1824), Register of Debates (1824-1837) Congressional Globe (1833-1873), and Congressional Hearings (1927-2015), as well as other important congressional material. Using the Daily-to-Bound Locator Tool, you can quickly find a page in the Bound volume from the Daily edition. This collection now also includes other Congressional documents including Congressional bills, prints, hearings, reports and presidential remarks and public laws.
In addition to the inclusion of actual federal legislative histories published by the U.S. GPO and private publishers, HeinOnline's U.S. Federal Legislative History Library also includes a unique finding aid based on Nancy Johnson's award-winning work, Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories. Researchers should begin their U.S. federal legislative history research with this finding aid, which often includes references to law review articles on-point to a particular legislative history.
The Serial Set contains the House and Senate Documents and the House and Senate Reports. The reports are usually from congressional committees dealing with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. The documents include all other papers ordered printed by the House or Senate.