Track current legislation by topics, bills, and/or members of the U.S. Congress.
Congressional Publications and Actions
Research reports prepared for Congress provide excellent background information on the topic covered. Examples of agencies that produce reports include the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Research Service.
Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are non-partisan, high-quality research on timely issues. Prior to passage of P.L.115-141 (03/23/2018) these reports are not routinely released beyond Congress and several organizations worked to make access to the documents more widely available. What follows are links to several sources for CRS reports in digital format.
The legislative process can be quite complicated. Below is an abbreviated explanation, along with a couple of visual summaries and a video, of the route a bill takes on its way to becoming a law, noting the publications that contain relevant information for each piece of the puzzle.
Another flowchart produced by the Government Printing Office (interactive image by Jenny Rensler uses Prezi) provides a visual overview of the legislative process. These short videos are another way to learn about the stages of the legislative process.
A member of the House of Representatives or of the Senate may introduce a bill for consideration. The bill is first announced in the Congressional Record, where you can find the bill number, who introduced the bill, which committee the bill was referred to, and the stated intent of the bill.
The bill is then referred to a committee. If the committee decides not to consider the bill, or if the committee reports unfavorably on it, the bill dies. If the committee decides the bill has merit, they will hold hearings on the bill. Most hearings transcripts are published two months to two years after the hearings are held.
After hearings are held, a committee report that contains the revised bill, the committee's recommendations, and background information is issued.
If the committee recommends passage of the bill, it is then reported out to the full House or Senate for consideration (known as "floor action"). These proceedings and debates can be found in the Congressional Record, which is issued daily when Congress is in session. These daily issues of the Congressional Record are indexed in the Congressional Record Index (CRI), which consists of two parts: the index proper, which lists individuals, organizations, and topics mentioned in the Congressional Record, and the History of Bills, which lists legislative actions reported in the Congressional Record.
If the full chamber approves the bill (which usually, by this point, has gone through an amendment process), the bill will then be sent to the other chamber for consideration. The bill is again assigned to a committee, which will either table the bill (which effectually kills it) or release it to the full chamber for consideration and approval.
Members of both chambers then meet to work out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The revised bill is sent back to both houses for a vote. The text of a final bill that passes both houses is called the "enrolled" version. To determine whether a congressional member voted for or against a bill, go to the Roll Call Votes section of Thomas; UCSD users can also search the "Member Records" part of ProQuest Congressional to find vote reports.
Once passed by Congress, the bill is then sent to the President. The President may sign the bill, veto it, or simply ignore it. If he signs it, the bill becomes a law. If he vetoes it, the bill may go back to Congress to be amended. Or, Congress may override the veto with a 2/3 majority vote. If the President simply ignores the bill (neither signs it nor vetoes it) and does not return it to Congress within 10 days, the bill becomes a law. If Congress adjourns before that 10-day period, the bill is automatically vetoed; this action is known as a “pocket veto”. The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and Public Papers of the Presidents are good sources to use to determine the President's action or inaction on a bill.
Once the bill has become a law, it is assigned a "public law" number. If you have the bill number, you can easily find the public law number by browsing the "Public laws" section of Congress.gov. This page will then lead you to the text of the law and other relevant information pertaining to the law. Note: There is also a separate category of "private bills" which, if passed, are assigned a "private law" number; these bills/laws pertain to an individual person or organization (including corporations), not to the general public.
The first printing of the new law is called a "slip law". At the end of each session of Congress, slip laws are compiled into a set called Statutes at Large. Finally, public laws are incorporated every six years into the U.S. Code, which is a codification of all general and permanent laws of the United States. The U.S. Code is arranged by subject, and shows the present status of laws that have been amended.
Congress is charged with the responsibility of enacting laws, as explained in the process above. Once a law is in effect, it is subject to rules and regulations written by federal agencies; these rules determine how the laws will be interpreted and applied. All newly-proposed regulations are announced in the Federal Register. Each issue of the Federal Register is organized into four categories:
Presidential Documents, including Executive orders and proclamations;
Rules and Regulations, including policy statements and interpretations of rules;
Proposed Rules, including petitions for rulemaking and other advance proposals; and
Notices, including scheduled hearings and meetings open to the public, grant applications, and administrative orders.
The rules published in the Federal Register are codified in an annual set called the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is a subject arrangement of all regulations currently in force. The CFR is divided into 50 titles which represent broad areas subject to federal regulation. Each title is divided into chapters, which are assigned to the agencies that issue regulations pertaining to that subject area. Each chapter is divided into parts; each part is then divided into sections.
It is important to note that the CFR is updated by the daily Federal Register. These two publications must be used together to determine the latest version of any given rule. When a federal agency publishes a regulation in the Federal Register, that regulation usually is an amendment to the existing CFR in the form of a change, an addition, or a removal.
Please be aware that ProQuest Congressional (database for Congressional publications), HeinOnline (emphasis upon legal information), and U.S. Congressional Serial Set and the American State Papers from Readex are available remotely only to NUL affiliated users. Anyone may use these resources when visiting the library. However. govinfo.gov, Library of Congress (LoC) website, and Congress.gov shown in the table below are available online to all users. NUL also has print copies of many of these documents; use NUSearch to find call numbers and locations.
|Open to All||Open to All||Open to All||NU Only||NU Only||NU Only|
|Bills||1993-94 / 103rd to present||1799-1873 House; 1819-1873 Senate; 1823-1873 Joint Resolutions||
|1776 - present|
|1975-76 94th; 1989-90 101st to present||116th 2019 - present (some older)||1789 - (see Miscellaneous Publications in Advanced Search)|
|1995-96 / 104th to present||1833-1917 within Serial Set||104th 1995 - present||1817 - present (see H / S Documents Reports in Advanced Search)||1817-1980|
1789 - 2009 Bound (includes predecessor titles Congressional Globe 1833-1873); Register of Debates in Congress (1824 - 1837); Annals of Congress (1789 - 1824)
Daily edition 1985? - present
|1983-||104th 1995 - present|
| Cong Committee
|1851-54 32-33rd; 1975/6 94th, 1979/80 96th, 1985-6 99th to present||1833-1917 within Serial Set||Treaty Documents||1817 - present||1817-1980|
|Hearings||1957-8 85th to present (select)||1824-2010*||1927-|
|Private Laws||1995-6 104th to present||1789 - present|
|Public Laws||1995-6 104th to present||82nd 1951 - present||1789 - present|
| Statutes at
|1951-2013 82nd - 113th 1st session||1789-1875, volumes 1-18||1789-|
|Voting Records||Roll Call Votes 1989 101st - present||1987 - present|
* Plus citations/abstracts and selected testimony transcripts 2011-current.
The CIS microfiche collection (1970-2010) includes Committee and Subcommittee hearings and prints, House and Senate reports, documents, and special publications, Senate executive reports and documents, and public laws. Searches in the ProQuest Congressional database will identify fiche numbers for specific publications.
To locate bills (1981-2001, 96th-107th Congress) in microfiche format or via the HathiTrust Digital Repository, use the Final Cumulative Finding Aid, House and Senate Bills.
When referring to a time-period (e.g., the 114th Congress which convened on January 6, 2015) rather than the legislative branch generally, a Congress is the national legislature in office (for approximately two years). It begins with the convening of a new Congress comprised of members elected in the most-recent election and ends with the adjournment sine die of the legislature (typically after a new election has occurred).
Source: Glossary of Legislative Terms, congress.gov