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Federal Legislative History Research

A how to guide for pinpointing congressional documents to help determine legislative intent

What is a Bill Introduction?

The first step in a legislative history is the introduction of the bill on the floor of a chamber of Congress. Any Member in the House of Representatives or the United States Senate may introduce a bill at any time while the House or Senate is in session. The sponsor's signature must appear on the bill, which may have an unlimited number of cosponsoring Members. The bill is assigned its legislative number by the Clerk and referred to the committee of jurisdiction, which is the committee charged with review of the bill.

Documents Produced During a Bill's Introduction

  • Bill introductory remarks: When legislators introduce a bill, they often provide introductory remarks, indicating the intent of the bill and why the bill should be passed into law.
    • You can use introductory remarks to understand the legislators’ intent behind drafting the bill and to see whether any lobbying interests were involved with the drafting of the bill.
    • Remember, bill introductions do not always include introductory remarks.
    • To see if introductory remarks exist, check the Congressional Record (the official transcript of the floor of the Senate and the House) for the date when the bill was first introduced.
  • Bill versions: After examining the bill as it was introduced, compare this initial bill version to the enrolled bill (the final copy of a bill that has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form).
    • Take special note of any inclusion, deletion, or modification of language; these changes offer hints regarding legislative intent.

Locating Bill Introduction Documents

Bill introductory remarks in the Congressional Record: Use the History of Bills, which serves as the index to the Congressional Record, to locate the bill introductory remarks. The History of Bills provides users with page numbers to all locations a bill is discussed within the Congressional Record, including when a bill is introduced and the introductory remarks if they exist.

  • Congress.gov: History of Bills, 1989 to the present; coverage is not complete From the bill in Congress.gov > select “actions” from the navigation bar > under “actions overview,” select “Bill History – Congressional Record References” > the History of the Bill will provide page numbers and link you to the notation in the Congressional Record
  • Govinfo.gov: History of Bills, 1983 to the present Select the Congressional Record from the govinfo.gov homepage > select History of Bills at the bottom of the page > locate your bill using the Congress and bill number > the history of the bill will provide page numbers and link you to the notations in the Congressional Record

Comparing bill versions:

  • Congress.gov: provides the full text of bills from 1989 to the present and metadata from 1973 to the present.
    • From the bill in Congress.gov > select “text” from the navigation bar > use the dropdown menu to download the different bill versions.
    • Congress.gov does not have a compare documents feature. To set up a side-by-side comparison, try using the Word or Adobe redlining features.