Understanding the Legislative Process

Legislative History

There are a number of sources for tracking legislative histories.  Two excellent options, Congress.gov and ProQuest Congressional, are described below. 

The Legislative Process Glossary in Congress.gov provides assistance with the specialized vocabulary of law-making. A nine part video series illustrates each step of the law-making process.

HeinOnline contracts with legal experts to compile legislative histories of selected major pieces of federal legislation. You may be fortunate and find a history for a law of interest to you.

What's the difference?

Congress.gov ProQuest Congressional
Official; materials come directly from Congressional sources. Commercial product licensed for the NU community; requires login
Cleaner, more intuitive interface. Advanced search form is more complex, though less complicated than that of ProQuest Congressional. Interface powerful, but requires practice! 
Updated daily; most content from 1995 onwards, though some materials go back to 1973. Most publication series updated daily; contains substantial numbers of historical materials. For example, hearings go back to 1824.
Offers a "policy area terms" limiter. Legislative history is complete, providing excellent timelines for legislative action; few documents are linked. Provides in-depth legislative histories, linking all related documents, including the Congressional Record. Congress.gov provides better timelines, but ProQuest offers more supporting documentation.
  **Related news articles are included and linked to documents; many come from smaller regional newspapers. Also includes political news from the Washington Post (1987-), Roll Call (1998-) and CQ Political Transcripts (1995-).
Use for: bills, brief legislative histories, committee hearings and reports, links to members and committees, roll call votes, Use to find: bills, extensive legislative histories, hearings, reports, committee prints, Congressional Record texts related to legislation, vote reports, witness testimony, and special features (material contains illustrations or statistics). Also provides links to members and committees as well as proposed and final rules and regulations.


Notes on Laws

Notes on Finding Laws:

Session Laws - Compilations of session laws provide a chronological record of laws passed in a specific time period.  For example, in Congress, a session is a two-year legislative period. To see a law as it appeared on the day it was signed into law, use session laws.

Codes - To see a law as it has been incorporated into the body of laws and amended since the date of passage, use codes.

In legal proceedings, it's important to cite official versions of codes and session laws. Codes published in sources like Westlaw Campus are useful for research, but are not considered "official" texts. In many instances, including the United States Code and the General Laws of Massachusetts, the print texts are considered authoritative.

Federal Laws

Massachusetts Laws

Laws from Other States

Use the States and Territories link (Law Library of the Library of Congress). Links to state legislative sites provide access to bills, session laws, and codes of law. State pages also include links to legal guides, maps, and some primary sources.

Other options include: