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Researching Legislative History  

Last Updated: Aug 1, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Online Introductory Material

Professor Robert C. Berring of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law has a podcast on Legislative Histories and other legal research topics.

CALI has several lessons on Federal Legislative History research, including "Federal Legislative History Research:  Compiled Legislative Histories" by Professor Lee F. Peoples, Director of the Oklahoma City University Law Library and "Researching Federal Legislative History" by Professor Nancy Johnson at Georgia State University.

The Law Library of Congress has created a brief guide to federal legislative history.

The Massachusetts State Library provides a summary of the process of compiling the history of a Massachusetts law.  It has also created a Video on the Legislative History Process and a Comprehensive Guide to Massachusetts Legislative History.

The Connecticut State Library has a Guide to Connecticut Legislative History that provides an overview of the legislative history search process. 



Legislative history refers to the events (hearings, debates) and documents (reports) surrounding the consideration and enactment of a particular legislative bill. 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. 

The key to successfully locating a state's legislative history documents is to understand the state's legislative process and to identify the documents generated during that process. This information can vary significantly from state to state depending on how accessible the particular state has made its legislative history. Typically, however, state level legislative history material is not published as consistently as at the federal level. Committee hearings on bills are not usually transcribed, reports on bills are rarely prepared. There is no written record of debate.

This guide provides information on researching legislative history for federal statutes, Massachusetts statutes, and Connecticut statutes. In the introduction, the guide uses the federal system as an example of what one may find in a legislative history.


How a Bill Becomes a Law

how our laws are made

Source: Mike Wirth & Dr. Suzanne Cooper Guasco, How Our Laws Are Made,


  1. Bill is introduced in the House (H.R.####) or Senate (S.####).

  2. Bill is assigned to a committee.

  3. The committee may let the bill die or hold hearings and mark up the bill.

  4. The committee votes to report the bill and writes a report on its thought process.

  5. The bill is sent to the floor of its originating house for debate and voting.

  6. Once a bill passes in its originating house, it is called an engrossed bill.  It is sent to the other house and the same process begins again.  Once it is sent to the other house, it is called an act.

  7. If the two houses disagree on aspects of the bill, they may have a conference to resolve disputes.  They will draft a report showing how they came to their conclusions.

  8. Once the bill passes both houses, it is called an "enrolled act."

  9. The enrolled act is sent to the President for who will either sign or veto it



Types of Legislative Materials

  1. Bill or Act in various versions, e.g. as introduced, as reported out of committee, as sent to the president, etc.

  2. Hearing Records: Witnesses oral/written statements, committee Q&As, statements and exhibits submitted by interested parties.

  3. Committee Prints: Research reports prepared by committee staff, consultants, the Library of Congress, and others.

  4. Committee Reports: Description & analysis of the bill, discussion of its background, committee's findings/recommendations, text of recommended bill, minority views, recommended costs.

  5. Floor Debates & Proceedings: Statements made and/or actions taken in a chamber of Congress.

  6. Presidential Statements: Signing statements or veto messages.

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