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