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Legislative History: Compilations

Resources for finding federal and state legislative history materials.

Compiled Federal Legislative Histories - Sources

Best Bet

For most UCI researchers looking for the legislative history of a federal law, Legislative Insight is the best starting point. Their collection is weaker for laws before approximately 1900, so if you're looking for information about an older law, check one of the other options. Legislative Insight provides a list of which Congresses are covered on its front page. No coverage of state laws.

Other Options

Compiled federal legislative histories are included in the sources below. These can be helpful if your law is not included in Legislative Insight, or if you want more secondary source coverage than Legislative Insight provides.

About Compilations

What is a compiled legislative history?

Compiled legislative histories are existing collections of all the relevant Congressional documents leading up to a particular act's passage.  Tip: Some bills are introduced in several Congresses before they pass, and there can be interesting commentary in documents from earlier Congressional sessions.

Compiled legislative histories can include:

  • Bills, including different versions (Introduced, Reported, Engrossed, Enrolled)
  • Reports
  • Debates
  • Hearings
  • Committee prints
  • Presidential materials
  • More comprehensive compiled histories will include the documents above from Congressional sessions that pre-date final enactment. 

Using a compiled history saves time because documents have already been gathered.

How do I find a compiled legislative history?

Legislative Insight — the Best Bet resource above — lets you search by the popular name of an act, like "PATRIOT Act" or "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Citations that you'll need for other resources include:

  • Bill numbers, including the Congressional session, eg. 109 H.R. 4954, 109 S. 2459
  • Public law citations, including the Congressional session, e.g. PL 109-347
  • Statutes at large citations, e.g. 120 Stat. 1884

Lexis or Westlaw also have Popular Names tables. And the Office of Law Revision Counsel provides a free Popular Name Tool:

Statutes - Historical Notes

Reading statutory notes

To find citations to Public Laws and Statutes at large, you can start with a U.S. Code section. Bring up the section in Lexis or Westlaw (or find it in print) and read the notes following the section.

Example from Lexis+ for 42 USCS § 14131 (as of 2015):

lexis historial note

The note shows that the section was:

  • Added in 1994,
  • by the 322nd law passed by the 103rd Congress (P.L. 103-322), and
  • published starting on page 2068 of the 108th volume of the Statutes at Large. Tip: this is a pin cite. The first page of P.L. 103-322 is at page 1796.

Important tips about the historical note above:

  • "Title XXI, Subtitle C, § 210303" refers to subdivisions of the public law, not to sections of the U.S. Code. The law—popularly known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, or VCCA, or Violent Crime Control Act— changed dozens of sections of Title 42, and also affected Titles 15, 16, 18, and 28.  
  • If this section had been amended since 1994, you'd see additional notes.

To find corresponding bill numbers, click through to the Public Law or Statutes at Large. If there's no click-through access because the law is too old, one option is to check HeinOnline.