Federal Government Information

Legislative Branch

Let's start at the Legislative Branch. This branch is made up of the House of Representatives, which has 435 members elected proportionally from each state, and the Senate, which has two members from each state, 100 members all together (For more information about legislators, search in the Biographical directory of the United States Congress, 1774-present ). Their purpose is to make laws. Each chamber needs to approve of the law before it is sent off to the President for approved. However, it's a long process. Let's look at each step and information available.

1) A bill is introduced.

2) A bill is then sent to a committee.

3) There is a debate and vote on the bill.

4) The President has the right to veto a bill.

5) The bill becomes a law.

No review of the legislative process would be complete without Schoolhouse Rock's "I"m Just a Bill"

Another great site for Congressional documents is A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1875 , which has online copies of bills, resolutions, laws and the Congresssional Globe and Record from this time period.

 

1) A bill is introduced.

A bill is only a draft of a law. It needs to be discussed and worked upon before it is voted on.

BILLS

About This Resource

If you are doing general searching, start in LexisNexis: Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws.

Bills are numbered by number of Congress, type, number. For example, 109 S. 397 " Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" is from the 109th Congress, Senate bill, numbered 397. There are many types of bills:

H.R. (House) and S. (Senate) are bills.

H.Res. (House Resolution) and S.Res. (Senate Resolution) are resolutions, which deal mainly with the chamber's operations.

H.J.Res. (House Joint Resolution) and S.J.Res. (Senate Joint Resolution) are jont resolutions, which are nearly the same as bills. However, resolutions are used for Constitutional amendments.

H.Con.Res. (House Concurrent Resolution) and S.Con.Res. (Senate Concurrent Resolution) deals with the matters of both chambers, such as budgets or joint committees. These resolutions are not given to the President for approval and are not laws.

If you are looking back in time to find bills and can't find full text copies on line, get the bill number and look for a paper copy.

Digital
Paper

Bills

LexisNexis: Legislative Histories, Bills and Laws

You can search by the following options:

  • Bills (Text Function) allows you to search through the full-text of all of the versions of bills (1989-current)
  • Bill Tracking contains information on action taken on a bill, i.e., introduction, sponspors, etc.(1989-current).
  • Legislative Histories contain all the information about bills that become law (1969-current).

Library of Congress (Thomas): Bills has information about bills back to 1989.

American Memory: Statutes at Large (1789-1875) has online copies of the laws.

From 1979 (96th Congress), check our microfiche for bills.

1. For bill number 97 H.R. 3359, you see by the first number that it's the 97th Congress. In the Government Documents collection, you need to find the Final Cumulative Finding Aid, House and Senate Bills. The are shelved GP3.28: congressional session.

2. In the Finding Aid for that Congress, look for the H.R. number. For the entry of the number, you find Fiche No. 221. So, we know that the bill is on that fiche card.

3. You need to now find the fiche. At the beginning of the Finding Aid, you find the SuDoc numbers for the fiche series that have these documents. The most common are Y 1.4/1: Congressional session for Senate Bills and Y 1.4/6: Congressional session for House Bills. So, look in the fiche series for the fiche number that has the bill.

Before 1979, it becomes tricky. You can try

  • The Congressional Record (See below)
  • House or Senate Reports (See below)
  • The media, e.g., The New York Times, sometimes reported on bills in the 1800s, or secondary sources, e.g., books on the subject.

 

Back to top

2) A bill is then sent to a committee.

Each chamber establishes a committee and then elects members to it. These committees are delegated to investigate, consider, report, and act on a introduced bill. The House of Representatives Committees and Senate Committees are separate and do their own work. These committees produce many forms of information about bills:

  • Testimony and Hearings:

    A committee can hold open meetings to discuss the bill. These meetings are called hearings. Testimony is when witnesses or experts are called into talk about the bill.
  • Committee Prints:

    Documents produced by committees, such as committee rules or reports.
  • Markups and Votes:

    Markups are when a subcommitte revises the bill to be presented to the full committee. The committe needs to vote on whether to send the bill to the floor to be voted on or tabled.
  • Reports:

    If a committee approves of a bill to be voted on in Congress, they attached a report explaining section by section their recommendation.

 

HEARINGS

About This Resource

For the Senate, the numbering is S. , Hrg. , Congress number, and Hearing Number . For example, S. Hrg. 108-614 "Review of the 9/11 Commission's Intelligence Recommendations " is a Senate Hearing of the 108th Congress numbered 614.

For the House, committees can have their own numbering system for hearings. If you're searching, use the SuDoc numbering system.

If you are looking back in time, search in LexisNexis first. Find the SuDoc number for the individual item and follow the Federal Documents in Print procedure. If the hearing is unpublished, you will automatically need to interlibary loan (ILL) the item.

For Testimony, the best place to start is LexisNexis. Select only Hearings. You can search for the witness's name in the In dropdown menu under the search field.

Digital
Paper

LexisNexis: Congressional Publications Select only Hearings from Select Witin.

  • Full-text of hearings 1989 onward.
  • Index of hearing 1824-1989.

Congressional Hearings: Main Page (GPOAccess) has full-text version of selected hearings starting from 1995.

Josiah has some records for hearing.

The government document call number for committee hearings starts with Y4 . Check the Federal Documents in Print.

 

COMMITTEE REPORTS & DOCUMENTS

About This Resource

Numbering for reports is the chamber, Rp., number of the Congress, -, report number, For example, S. Rpt. 104-10 "Legislative Line Item Veto Act" is a Senate Report from the 104th Congress with the report number 10.

Numbering for documents is H. or S. (House or Senate) Doc. (Document) number of Congress, number of document. For example, H. Doc. 108-35 "Plan Colombia/Andean Counterdrug Initiative Semi-Annual Obligation Report, Communication from the President" is a House Document from the 108th Congress numbered 35.

Both these items are normally part of the Serial Set. In LexisNexis, select Serial Set before 1970 and Reports and Documents after 1970.

Start to look in LexisNexis. If you're looking for old reports or documents in paper:

  1. In the record, look for DOC-NO and SERIAL-VOL-NO. For example, "Bridge across Hudson River at New York City, by New York and New Jersey Bridge Company, with minority report" from 1889 is DOC-NO: H.rp.3167, 51-1 SERIAL-VOL-NO: 2816. So, we need to find the serial volume 2816, and then find H.rp.3167 in it. The 51-1 stands for the 51st Congress, 1st session.
  2. Serial Set Before 1909, your quickest option is to use the microfiche. The Serial Set is under the number JK404 .C59x in the Hecker Center microfiche cabinets. Then the actual microfiche will be numbered by the SERIAL-VOL number. There might be a few cards to cover the whole volume, so check each volume card for the report or document you're looking for. If you want the paper copy, you will need to page it from the HAY Annex. In Josiah, do a title search for Serial Set. In the results, select the Congress number to get the call number of the volume to be paged.
  3. Serial Set From 1909 onwards the Rockefeller has paper copies of the Serial Set on the Level 2. The SERIAL -VOL is the volume number. So, we're looking for volume 2816 and then, if there are more than one document in the volume, look for the DOC - NO - H.rp.3167.
  4. Serial Set From 1970 to 1988 the record will not say what volume number it's in. So, you'll need to check in the The Numerical Lists and Schedule of Volumes of the United States Congressional Serial Set (Z1223 A15x 1983 3 DOCS) or one of the supplements, which are located in the government documents reference shelf, to get the volume number. Look under the Congress number, type of document and document number to get the serial volume number.
  5. Serial Set From the late 1980s onward, most of the time you can find full text versions of the items online (graphs and maps not included). However, if you need to consult the paper item, you will need to search the Serial Set collection by Congress, document type and number as given on the spine of the book. Volume numbers are not given.
Digital
Paper

LexisNexis: Congressional Publications Select only Reports, Documents and Serial Set from Select Within. Reports are full text from 1990 onward and Documents from 1995 onward.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set (GPO Access) has full-text back to 1995.

American Memory: Serial Set (1833-1917) has some items from the Serial Set from this time period.

In Josiah , do a Title search for the Serial Set. This set goes back to 1817, and is located both in the Hay and Rockefeller. This Set contains the reports and documents.

 

PRINTS

About This Resource

Start in LexisNexis first. Select Print and search. If you are not given a full text option, then find the SuDoc number and follow the Federal Documents in Print procedure. In a very few cases, prints are ordered as Serial Set Documents.

Digital
Paper

LexisNexis: Congressional Publications indexes Prints back to 1830.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set (GPO Access) has full-text back to 1997.

American Memory: Serial Set (1833-1917) has some items from the Serial Set from this time period.

Use the Federal Documents in Print procedure.

Back to top

 

3) There is a debate and vote on the bill.

The bill can be either killed in the committee, or approved and sent out to the floor of the chamber with report for a vote. Here the bill is debated, amendments are proposed or the bill can even be sent back to committee for reconsideration. If the bill reaches a vote and is approved, it goes to the Senate where a very similar process is followed for approval.

 

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD

About This Resource

The numbering is this: 149 (2003) H-House 27. This stands for Congress and year 149 (2003), then whether it was in the H-House, S-Senate, D-Daily Digest, or E-Ext. of Remarks, which is remarks that were submitted in paper, not verbalized on the floor, and finally page number (27)

Online resources allow text searching.

Please use the Citation Guide for the numbering system for the paper copies and older editions.

Digital
Paper

LexisNexis: Congressional Record & Rules Full-tex back to 1985.

U.S. Congressional Record (GPO Access) has full-text from 1994.

From 1875-1985, please consult the paper copies.

Congressional Record Debates and Proceedings, 1873-1875 has the records of floor activity and votes.

Congressional Globe Debates and Proceedings, 1833-1873 has the records of floor activity and votes.

Congressional Record Permanent Edition 1873-1998

Congressional Globe 1833-1873

 

VOTES

About This Resource

For recent votes, search for the vote on a bill by the number of the bill or keyword in LexisNexis (See Bills above for more information). For older votes, search the paper or Century of Lawmaking resources.

Remember, votes are not kept on every piece of legislation passed. Many laws are passed by a simple voice vote.

Digital
Paper

LexisNexis: Congressional Record & Rules Lists members' votes back to 1989.

Library of Congress (Thomas): Roll Call Vote: Lists members' votes Back to 1989.

From 1875-1985, please consult the paper copies.

Congressional Record Debates and Proceedings, 1873-1875 has the records of floor activity and votes.

Congressional Globe Debates and Proceedings, 1833-1873 has the records of floor activity and votes.

Congressional Record Permanent Edition 1873-1998

Congressional Globe 1833-1873

 

Back to top

 

4) The President has the right to veto a bill.

When our republic was established, the founders decided that there should be a system of "checks and balances," where each branch would be able to influence and stop the other so one does not get more control of the other. The President can veto or reject a bill. However, if the bill can override the veto if it is approved of by two-thirds of the House.

VETOS

About This Resource
First search online for the veto. You can get summaries or a citation back to the 1830s in LexisNexis. If you need to get the full text of the veto, use the procedure for finding Documents in the Serial Set.

Numbering for documents is H. or S. (House or Senate) Doc. (Document) number of Congress, number of document. For example, H. Doc. 108-35 "Plan Colombia/Andean Counterdrug Initiative Semi-Annual Obligation Report, Communication from the President" is a House Document from the 108th Congress numbered 35.

If you're looking for old reports or documents in paper:

  1. In the record, look for DOC-NO and SERIAL-VOL-NO. For example, "Bridge across Hudson River at New York City, by New York and New Jersey Bridge Company, with minority report" from 1889 is DOC-NO: H.rp.3167, 51-1 SERIAL-VOL-NO: 2816. So, we need to find the serial volume 2816, and then find H.rp.3167 in it. The 51-1 stands for the 51st Congress, 1st session.
  2. Serial Set Before 1909, your quickest option is to use the microfiche. The Serial Set is under the number JK404 .C59x in the Hecker Center microfiche cabinets. Then the actual microfiche will be numbered by the SERIAL-VOL number. There might be a few cards to cover the whole volume, so check each volume card for the report or document you're looking for. If you want the paper copy, you will need to page it from the HAY Annex. In Josiah, do a title search for Serial Set. In the results, select the Congress number to get the call number of the volume to be paged.
  3. Serial Set From 1909 onwards the Rockefeller has paper copies of the Serial Set on the Level 2. The SERIAL -VOL is the volume number. So, we're looking for volume 2816 and then, if there are more than one document in the volume, look for the DOC - NO - H.rp.3167.
  4. Serial Set From 1970 to 1988 the record will not say what volume number it's in. So, you'll need to check in the The Numerical Lists and Schedule of Volumes of the United States Congressional Serial Set (Z1223 A15x 1983 3 DOCS) or one of the supplements, which are located in the government documents reference shelf, to get the volume number. Look under the Congress number, type of document and document number to get the serial volume number.
  5. Serial Set From the late 1980s onward, most of the time you can find full text versions of the items online (graphs and maps not included). However, if you need to consult the paper item, you will need to search the Serial Set collection by Congress, document type and number as given on the spine of the book. Volume numbers are not given.
Digital
Paper

GPO Congressional Documents: back to 1995. Include the word veto in your search.

LexisNexis: Congressional Publication Select only House & Senate Documents (1817-present) and include the word veto in your search.

American Memory: Serial Set (1833-1917) has some items from the Serial Set from this time period.

In Josiah, do a Title search for the Serial Set. This set goes back to 1817, and is located both in the Hay and Rockefeller.

 

Back to top

 

5) The bill becomes a law.

When the bill finally becomes a law or statute, it is is put into Statutes at Large, which is a compliation of all Federal laws. There are full-text versions on line and paper versions in the Library.

LAWS

About This Resource

A good place to start looking is in LexisNexis. If you do not find a full text copy, you can search in the paper versions.

Public Laws are the laws passed every year. There are two numbering systems for Public Laws:

1. Public or private law, Congressional session, number. For example, P. L. 108-45 "Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act" is the 45th public law passed during the 108th Congress.

2. Volume STAT. page number. This is used mainly in the paper copy. For example, 117 Stat. 844 "Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act" is located in volume 117 of the Statutes at Large on page 844.

The US Code is the compilation of all the laws that are presently in effect. The numbering system is Title, Chapter, Subchapter, Section (§), Subsection (usually a letter). So, Title 29, Chapter 7, Subchapter III, § 177(a) is in volume 29 (Labor), chapter 7 (Labor-Management Relations), subchapter III (Conciliation of Labor Disputes; National Emergencies), Subsection 177 (Board of Inquiry), a (Composition). Be careful, though. When using the paper copy, the covers give title and section (§). You can find the statute using just those two numbers.

Note: Be careful of the names of laws. The Taft-Hartley Act, named after its sponsors, is officially the Labor-Management Relations Act.

Digital
Paper

LexisNexis Congressional: Legislative Histories, Bills and Laws You can select to search only in some or all of the documents.

Legislative Histories has:

  • 1998 onward full legisaltive histories (full-text and links to bills) of all laws.
  • 1984-1998 full legislative histories of major public laws.
  • 1969-1983 abbreviated histories of laws.

Public Law has each year's law full text back to 1988.

US Code has all laws that are presently in effect.

Legal Information Institute contains full-text copies of laws. Search under U.S. Code.

American Memory: Statutes at Large (1789-1875) has online copies of the laws.

Statutes at Large has all laws passed each year back to 1789 listed chronologically. Their call number is 1-Size K50 and they are found on the 4th Level at the Rock. Volumes are by Congressional sessions.

United States Code Service has all laws in effect listed by subject. Their call number is KF62 1972 .L38 and they are found at Reference at the Rock.

 

 

Back to top

 

Library Home | Brown Home