Political Science 311: Legislative History

Professor: Cathy Johnson
Fall 2017

Research Tip: What is a Legislative History?

A legislative history is:

  1. A chronological list of actions that have occurred on a measure 
  2. A collection of documents produced as part of the bill's progress to enactment.  

They are used to:

  • Discern the intent of Congress on a particular provision of a law
  • Identify proponents and opponents and their arguments for or against a provision.    


Resources for Finding/Compiling Legislative Histories

Congressional Publications Search Strategies

For a specific piece of legislation:

  • Use the Search by Number search form.
    • If the bill passed into law, search by the public law number.
    • If the bill did not pass into law, search by the bill number.
  • In the search results, look for "Legislative History" or "Bill Profile" for summary/compilation of actions and documents.

To find legislative histories by topic:

  • Use the Advanced Search form.
  • Uncheck "Select All" Document Types and check "Legislative History."
  • Enter keywords or select Subjects.

* Don't have the public law or bill number?

  • Use the resources in the box on the right.
  • Search by keyword in Congressional Publications
    • Look for the number in the records of the items found.
    • Re-run your search doing a Number Search.

Finding Public Law and Bill Numbers

For major legislation, you can often find the bill or public law number through Wikipedia. For more authoritative and complete information, use the following resources.