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Legislative History: New York State and Federal at NYPL: Federal

Federal Legislative History

Many documents are generated in the course of passage of Federal legislation. It helps to understand the legislative process, as documents are generated at each step.

  • A bill is introduced to the House or the Senate, and is assigned a bill number. It is assigned to committee, which decides whether or not to refer the bill to the full House or Senate for debate and a vote. Most bills die in committee without further action. 
  • If the committee considers the bill, it will hold Hearings to gather information and opinions on the proposed legislation.
  • The committee may report the legislation out of committee for consideration by the full House or Senate. If this occurs, they write a Committee Report, discussing the purpose, scope, etc. of the legislation. This is the most important document for purposes of legislative intent.  
  • The bill will then be debated by the the full House or Senate, which is recorded in the Congressional Record
  • The full House or Senate votes on the bill.
  • If passed, the bill moves to the other chamber, and the same procedure is followed. 
  • If both bodies pass a bill, it may go to a Conference Committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions, generating a Conference Report.
  • The bill then goes to the President to be signed into law or vetoed. If it becomes law, it is assigned a Public Law number, and is published as a session law in United States Statutes at Large

Legislative history documents are generally keyed to the session law, as published in Statutes at Large; key pieces of information are the Public Law number, the Statutes at Large citation, and the bill number.

If you start with a United States Code citation, look to the bottom of the code section to the Credits or History Note, where you will find citations to the original enacting legislation and any subsequent amendments. Amendments will each have their own legislative history. 

Acts by Popular Name

Public laws are often know by their "popular name" (e.g. the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Securities Exchange Act of 1934). It is possible to search ProQuest Congressional by popular name, but it can be difficult to pinpoint the correct piece of legislation, and it is generally most effective to search by session law citation. Use popular names tables to find citations. 

Library Resources: 
  • WestLaw: Available for use onsite at the library. To find the Popular Names Table: From the home page, click on the Federal Materials tab. Then click on United States Code Annotated (USCA). Find the Popular Names Table - USCA in the column on the far right under Tools and Resources.
  • United States Code Annotated (USCA): The last volumes of the index to the print copy of US statutes includes a Popular Names Table. The index to the United States Code (USC) also includes a Popular Names Table. 
Web Resources:

Session Laws: 

Session laws are legislation passed in a session of Congress into law by and signed by the President, published in chronological order, in the print publication United states Statutes at Large. As mentioned above, finding the session law citation is key to finding legislative history. Federal session laws are cited by Public Law number (eg Public Law 73-291; 73 indicates the 73rd Congress), and Statutes at Large citation (eg 48 Stat. 881; vol. 48, p. 881 of Statutes at Large). You may need to refer to the session laws to see the text of the law as originally passed, or track changes in subsequent amendments. Text of session laws can be found in ProQuest Congressional. In addition:


ProQuest Congressional Publications

ProQuest Congressional Publications is the most important library resource for Congressional documents. Beginning in 1969, it contains compiled legislative histories, with citations and links to relevant documents, generally with full text. You can simply search by public law number (eg. "pl 101-336").


You can also search by public law number prior to 1969; however, the results may not be as comprehensive, though results generally include bills, the House or Senate reports, and text of the act. 

House and Senate Reports

House and Senate reports are published in the Congressional Serial Set . If ProQuest Congressional does not prove a full text report, you can search for them in Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980. When possible, do a Publication Search.


Locate the report number in ProQuest Congressional. Enter the Congress and document number in Congressional Serial Set. 


CONGRESS.GOV provides House and Senate reports since 1995:



The library holds to United States Congressional Serial Set in print going back to 1817. Holdings are broken into several catalog records. To obtain the correct volume for a House or Senate report, you will Serial Set Vol. No. and Session Vol. No. as shown in Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set (see above).

United States Congressional Serial Set


Hearings can be found in ProQuest Congressional Documents. They are included in the precompiled legislative histories of laws passed after 1969. They can also be found for earlier laws. However they may not be keyed directly to legislation. To find them, you can do a key word and date search in an Advanced Search: 


CIS US Congressional Committee Hearings Index

The library also holds a print index to Congressional hearings, covering the years 1833-1969. This keys to the microfiche set: CIS US Congressional Committee Hearings.

Other Materials: 

A search of the catalog will also turn up legislative histories of individual pieces of legislation in book form.