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Federal Legislative History Research

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

What Happens When a Bill is Referred to a Committee/Subcommittee?

After a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee or subcommittee for editing and analysis. This is known as the markup period. The committee or subcommittee considering the bill may hold hearings on the bill, review committee prints, and produce committee reports. 

Documents Produced in the Committee/Subcommittee Markup Period

Hearings 

  • Committees may listen to testimony about the bill to determine a need for the legislation. When testimony is given, it is called a hearing on the bill.
  • Hearings are an opportunity for interested parties to speak about the bill.
  • Hearings generally focus on the views of the parties testifying rather than the views of the committee or Congress. This focus on testifying parties’ opinions makes hearings less valuable for determining legislative intent.

Committee prints 

  • Committee prints are wide-ranging documents on a wide variety of topics. Committee prints can include research materials, statistical information, legislative analyses, staff reports, investigative reports, and internal background information.
    • Because committee prints aren’t necessarily created by legislators, you cannot rely on a committee print to provide an indication of legislative intent. Instead, watch out for legislators’ references to committee prints in debates and reports. 

Committee/Subcommittee Reports

  • After committee members listen to hearing testimony (if a hearing occurs) and after reviewing any applicable committee prints, the committee/subcommittee members will often create a committee report.
  • Committee reports are some of the most important documents for determining legislative intent. They are issued for many bills that become law, and they generally include the purpose of the bill, a section-by-section analysis, the reasons the committee recommends approval for the bill to the full chamber, the text of any amendments to the bill and changes to existing law, and the views of any dissenting committee member(s).

Locating Markup Period Documents

Hearings: hearings do not always occur, and the publication of official hearing transcripts can take months. If you need to access a hearing before it has been published, check committee websites for prepared statements or webcasts—such documents are generally available immediately after the hearing takes place. • Govinfo.gov: Available from 1961 to the present; official publications available

Committee prints: Congress only publishes committee prints irregularly, and publication timing largely depends on the committee. Documents are sometimes available in HTML format only.

  • Govinfo.gov: select Committee Prints from the 104th Congress (1995-96) to the present
    • Govinfo.gov Advanced Search > Refine by Collection “Committee Prints”

Committee reports:

  • Govinfo.gov: House and Senate Reports, 1995 to the present
    • Govinfo.gov Advanced Search > Refine by Collection “Committee Reports”
  • Congress.gov: House and Senate Reports, 1995 to the present
    • From the bill in Congress.gov > select “Committees” tab from the navigation bar