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How to Locate a Legislative History

HeinOnline’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library is the richest collection of compiled federal legislative histories to exist. With this database, you can research the legislative intent behind major public laws and follow the progression of a bill from its introduction to its passage. This valuable database also provides insight and clarification into ambiguous statutory language. Watch this short tutorial or keep reading to learn how to locate a legislative history.

How to Browse

Once you enter the U.S. Federal Legislative Library you can easily locate a legislative history by its publication title, public law number, or popular name. Let’s use the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an example through each of these three options. Browse through publication titles using the A-Z index provided if you know the title you are looking for.

image of browse by options when locating a legislative history

Alternatively, if you have a public law number handy, navigate to the Congress number. In this case, the public law number for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is Pub. L. No. 111-148, so you would begin by looking at the 111th Congress. As you scroll you can locate this act listed numerically.

image of the ability to browse for a legislative history by an act's public law number

Maybe you don’t have a public law number handy, but you know the popular name. Here you can navigate to the letter the popular name begins with. For this example you would navigate to the letter P. You can scroll through the alphabetical listing or use your computer’s find function to search for the name.

image of using the A-Z Index when searching for an Act by its popular name

How to Search

Once you open a legislative history, you can either search across the title or open the cumulative contents to see all the documents indexed within the title. Let’s say you are trying to specifically locate House Report 111-448 from 2010. You can enter the number in the search bar or scroll through the indexed content to locate this.

image of how to locate documents within a legislative history title

What’s more, you can use the Advanced Search option within the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library which provides the ability to search for text and choose the desired section type. From here, enter the number in the text box, add a date range, and choose House Report from the section type option.

image of how to use HeinOnline's Advanced Search within the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories

In order to determine whether a legislative history of a particular public law has been compiled or to locate related documents, books, or scholarly articles, check out the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories database inside the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library. This database is derived from the loose-leaf publication Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books.

Using this database, users can search by:

  • Bill Number
  • Congress
  • Related Document Title
  • Popular Name of Public Law
  • Public Law Number
  • Title of the Public Law

Additionally, users can also browse by Congress or public law titles.

image of the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories subcollection

For example, let’s see if a legislative history exists for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is Pub. L. 103-322. Begin by selecting the 103rd Congress. Next, scroll to find the name of the act listed alphabetically or use your computer’s find function to search for either the name or public law number.

image of Act name within the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories database

Click the title of the act, and you will see a list of available relevant material for this public law. Users can view articles that cite the act, view the act in the U.S. Statutes at Large, or view a list of legislative histories that have been compiled for the act. Anything that is available in HeinOnline will be hyperlinked.

image of a bibliography of an Act in the Sources of Compiled Legislative History database

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