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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

Legislative History Research

Introduction

Legislative history refers to the documents and materials created during the Legislature's consideration of a bill. Researchers are often interested in trying to determine why the Legislature enacted the law, or why it used specific language (that is, legislative intent).

Legislative history can also provide information on the status of a bill currently pending in Congress, or one that was introduced but never became law.

This guide points you to government websites and library resources to conduct federal legislative history research. The last page points to guides for conducting state legislative history research.

Legislative History Materials

Any or all of the following types of documents are considered legislative history materials:

  • Bills (all versions, plus companion bills)
  • Committee Hearings
  • Committee Reports
  • Debates
  • Other Congressional Documents (e.g. Committee Prints)
  • Presidential Messages

A bill does not have to be enacted in order to find legislative history materials on it. Most legislative history finding tools include references to legislative history on both bills that became law, and those that failed but generated some discussion.

If you need to find a single piece of legislative history such as a hearing, use the finding tools mentioned in later sections, and follow instructions for obtaining the full text of documents.

Most Important Documents

The most important documents are the committee reports, especially conference committee reports, followed by hearings, debates, and bills.

Committee reports and conference reports are two of the primary legislative history research documents used by lawyers in deciphering the legislative intent of various laws.

  • Committee reports related to legislation frequently accompany bills and resolutions sent from a committee to the House or Senate floor. These reports generally try to advance the case for the bill's consideration and explain its content. The text of the legislation, how it affects current law, or its budget implications may be included.
  • Conference reports contain the agreed upon text between conferees of the House and Senate who have passed different versions of the same legislation. A conference report usually has a joint explanatory statement or an explanation from the bill managers.