Skip to Main Content

How a Bill Becomes a Law: Federal Legislative History

This guide will give you general information on the steps involved in the legislative process of a bill becoming a law and how to compile a legislative history.

The Legislative Process

Legislative histories are a compilation of all documents relating to a law, and are used to determine the intent of the law. Laws can be traced through bills, committee reports, committee prints, hearings, and Presidential messages. Committee reports will usually contain a reason for the passage of a bill.

See the chart below for the documents associated with various stages of a bill's life cycle.


Action Online documents Print/Microfiche

Bill introduced

A bill may be introduced in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Bills from the 103nd Congress to present

Texts of bills from 1989 and bill
summary status from 1973-present.

I.D. Weeks Library does not
have bills in print or microfiche.

Committee Action

The Bill is referred to the appropriate
committees with Jurisdiction over the subject
matter of the bill.

A committee may hold hearings on a bill;
A committee or subcommittee may schedule
a meeting to "mark up" (to amend the bill
by voting in committee) the bill.

Then the bill is reported and placed on
the calendar as a possible measure to be
considered by the full House or Senate.

If the committee recommends passage,
a committee report is issued. The Committee
report contains the explanation and summary
of a bill.

The Congressional Record notes when a bill is officially reported.

Congressional Reports (Govinfo)
Reports from the 104th Congress to present

Committee Reports (Congress.Gov)
Reports and selected hearings from the 104th Congress to present (1995-).

House and Senate
Some Committee pages contain hearings
and other publications.


House and Senate Committee Hearings: Y4.

Paper: Government Publications stacks 2nd floor.
Microfiche: Government Publications microfiche cabinets 2nd floor.

CIS Index:
91st-107th Congress, 1970-2001. 
1st floor reference collection. 
KF 49 .C62

Senate Reports: Y 1.1/5:

House Reports: Y 1.1/8:

Serial Set: Y 1.1/2:SERIAL
Government Publications stacks.
2nd floor. 

Floor Debate

The reported bill is then debated and amended.
Once a bill is passed by one chamber, it is
referred to the other chamber. If both chambers cannot agree on the final version of the bill, a
Conference is usually requested by either
chamber. The Conference Committee
composed of both Senate and House will make a compromise text accompanied by a joint
explanatory statement. Conference reports
are published in the Congressional Record
and are given sequential numbers.

Congressional Record 1994-

Congressional Record 1989-


Congressional Record:
X 1.1/A: (daily edition)
X 1.1: (permanent edition
Government Publications stacks.
2nd floor.



Members of both Chambers vote on the final
version of the bill.

Roll call votes, 101st Congress, 1989-

Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report
(CQ Weekly Report)  1960-1998.
Bound Periodicals 2nd floor.   

Congressional Quarterly Almanac
Reference collection 1st floor.

President signs or vetoes

A bill approved by both House & Senate is sent
to the President. The President has ten days
starting at midnight on the day he receives it
in which to sign or veto the act and may
comment on the bill. If he signs it, the bill
becomes law.

Presidential signing statements are published
in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential

If the President vetoes it, it may go back to
Congress with his objections. Congress may
or may not act on the vetoed bill or Congress
may override the veto by 2/3 majority vote in
both Houses.

If the President does not return the bill to
Congress with his objections within 10 days,
the bill automatically becomes a law.

If Congress adjourns before the 10 day
period, the bill is vetoed (pocket veto).

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States,
Presidential documents and
Executive Orders since 1994.

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1993-present.

Weekly Compilation of Presidential

Bound Periodicals 2nd floor. 

CIS Legislative Histories of U.S.
Public Laws, 1984-

Public Papers of the Presidents
J80 .A283 (1929-2005).
3rd floor.

Federal Register
Mckusick Law Library.

Public Laws

When a bill becomes law, it is sent to the
National Archives and the Office of the
Federal Register. The Office of the Federal
Register assigns each enacted bill a Public
Law number
and a United Statutes at Large

For example: Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention
and Consumer Protection Act passed during
the 109th Congress is P.L. 109-8.

Public laws are first published as Slip laws.

All laws passed for each Congressional
session are printed in United States
. Public laws are then
codified by subject in the United States Code.

Public Laws - 93rd Congress-present.

Statutes at Large - 1789-present.

United States Code - 1925-present.




Slip Laws
AE 2.110: (Slip Laws
after 1975 contain legislative histories)
Government Publications 2nd floor.

U.S. Statutes at Large
Mckusick Law Library

U.S. Code
KF 62 (latest edition)
Reference Collection 1st floor.







Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Diane Frigge
Rm 231, University Libraries

Depository Logo

Footer for USD LibGuide v2.0