Legislative History


Legislative history
is the proceedings leading to the enactment of
a statute including hearings, committee reports,
and floor debates. It’s sometimes used to aid in
interpretation of statutes. If you’re doing policy
work this summer, there is a good chance
you’ll see this. In this lesson, we’ll
be looking primarily at federal
legislative histories. State legislative histories
may have some similarities, but they’ll also have
some differences. Understanding how
laws are published will help you to find
legislative history information, so let’s review
how federal law is published. Session laws are the
laws that are passed by Congress each session. Laws are passed regularly,
but print publication can be slow and costly. People need access to
these laws right away, so they’re first
published as slip laws in thin pamphlets that
can be produced quickly. They’re then organized into
volumes called the statutes at large, which publish session
laws in chronological order. Chronological publication makes
it difficult to find and use the law, so these
laws are reorganized into the United States Code, a
compilation of laws organized by subject. The USCS and USCA
are annotated sets which include both the
US code content, as well as additional materials
assembled by Westlaw or Lexis to help connect sections
of the US code to cases, regulations, and
secondary sources, which help the reader to better
understand the law in context. Each has its own citation. Keep that in mind. When doing this
type of research, keep calm, and have a plan. Many legislative histories
are already compiled for you. If so, great. If not, we can pilot ourselves. To find legislative
histories, we will want to start with
that public law citation. For our example, I’m
using 21 USC 841. We start with a citation
to the USCS or the USCA, and pull up the statute
on Westlaw or Lexis. At the bottom of
the screen, you’ll see the credits which provide
historical information Here you find citations to the
public law and the statutes at large you can recognize them
by their citation formats Pub L or PL for public laws, and
stat for statutes at large. Now we have more information,
three citations to work with. There are three places
we should look– HeinOnline, ProQuest Legislative
Insight and Congress.gov. First, we’ll check HeinOnline. You can access it
under the popular links on the law library home page. Next, we’ll select
the library we want to access in
HeinOnline, the US federal legislative
history library. There are four ways to search. By the publication title,
the public law number, the popular name, or
by keyword up top. We have the public law citation
now, so let’s browse that way. 91 is the number of the
Congress, so select that. The second part
is the law number. We scroll down to 513
and click on the link to access all the legislative
history documents. But Hein doesn’t
have everything. Note the gap between
law numbers 3 and 53. So another option is
ProQuest legislative insight. Note that there is a
space under the search bar to enter the public law number. When you do, you’ll see that
the other fields auto populate. Click on Go To
Legislative History. Once you’ve found it, you
can access the full text of most documents. Some of the most common
documents you’ll encounter include bill drafts,
amendments, calendar entries, pages from the
congressional record, reports, hearings, presidential
signing statements, and committee prints. You will also have access
to more information on the specific documents, like
the title, length, committee, and date in addition
to digital PDFs. But what if ProQuest
doesn’t have it either? Or the law hasn’t passed, and we
still want legislative history information. The next option is Congress.gov,
which is a free open government website. Skip the search bar
and select Advanced. Here, the Congress
numbers are available. It doesn’t go back to 91, so we
know we won’t see our law here. Notice the option to
search by bill number under Legislation
and Law Numbers. This is a great way to find
legislative history information for bills that are in progress
or bills that never passed. Compiled legislative histories
like those we’ve just seen don’t exist for every law. So if you can’t find one, you’ll
need to create it yourself. When that happens, start
with a research guide. That will walk you through
the process step by step. We have a guide on federal
legislative history created here at Harvard as well
as one on Massachusetts legislative history. Legislative histories can
help you understand motivation behind the specific
language of a law or a bill often used in policy
work and sometimes by judges. You likely won’t use this
for aims, but many of you will be asked to do
this over the summer.

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