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Federal Legislative History

LRM course

Bills

Bills are the legislative proposals before Congress.  Bills from each house are assigned a number in the order in which they are introduced in each Congress. We are only concerned with public bills ... those which affect the general public.

H.R. designates a House Bill

S. designates a Senate Bill

Other types of legislative proposals are called resolutions.

Bills have names indicating where they are in the legislative process. For example, an engrossed bill is one that has been passed by the House or Senate; and enrolled bill is one that both houses have passed.  There are many additional designations.

Hearings

Congressional Hearings are for committee members to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation from experts in the area.  They may also be to conduct an investigation or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest.

Reports

Committee Reports are typically issued by congressional committees when they "report out" a bill. Because they may describe and comment on each provision in a proposed bill, they are usually regarded as the most important document in a legislative history.

Even more important, if one exists, are Conference Committee Reports. When the House and Senate pass mutually unacceptable versions of a bill, they may convene a Conference Committee to work out the differences. A conference report is an agreement on legislation that is negotiated between the House and Senate via conference committees. It is printed and submitted to each chamber for its consideration, such as approval or disapproval.

The first 602 pages reprint the bill. The explanatory material begins on page 603.

Debates

The Congressional Record is the most widely recognized published account of the debates, proceedings, and activities of the United States Congress.

The Record records the daily floor proceedings of the House and Senate, substantially verbatim. Since 1947, each day's Record also contains at its close a Daily Digest, which recounts by chamber the day's activities, including the number of bills introduced, the floor actions taken that day, a summary of meetings held that day by committees and for what purpose, and a list of committee meetings scheduled for the next day and on what topics (at the end of each week a list of committee meetings scheduled for the following week, and their topics, is printed).

Other documents

About Congressional Documents

Congressional documents originate from congressional committees and cover a wide variety of topics and may include reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations. Congressional documents, along with Congressional reports, are part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, commonly referred to as the Serial Set. There are three types of documents:

House and Senate Documents

Contain various other materials ordered printed by both chambers of Congress. Documents can include reports of executive departments and agencies, some of which are submitted in accordance with Federal law, then later are ordered printed as documents. Sometimes committee prints are ordered printed as documents also, if the information they contain is in demand. Documents have a larger distribution than committee prints.

Senate Executive Documents

Contain the text of a Treaty as it is submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States. Beginning with the 97th Congress in 1981, Executive Documents became known as Treaty Documents, and they are now numbered instead of lettered alphabetically.

Senate Treaty Documents

Contain the text of a Treaty as it is submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States. Numbered consecutively from the 1st Session through the 2d Session of a Congress. Prior to the 97th Congress known as Executive (Lettered) Documents, and identified by letters of the alphabet.

 FDsys contains selected House, Senate, and treaty documents from the 104th Congress (1995-96) forward. Additional documents from previous congresses are also available. Only the Congressional documents that are printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) are included. The database for the current Congress is updated irregularly, as electronic versions of the documents become available. Documents are available as ASCII text and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files.