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Legislative History Research

An overview of the materials and resources needed to construct a legislative history.

What is a Legislative History?

A legislative history traces path of how a specific bill became a law by

  • Examining the events that influenced the creation of a bill. What was it meant to accomplish?
  • Understanding text of the law itself from its first introduction as a bill, through the addendum and revision process, and the final version signed into law. What changes were made when? What impact does this have on the original intention off the bill?
  • Identifying the players involved - the members of Congress who introduced, debated, edited, voted, and those experts asked to testify in committee. What was their motivation? What was added to or deleted from the bill, and why? 
  • Investigating debates, committee meetings and hearings associated with the process. Were edits added to the original bill's texts to improve its efficacy, or was there some other agenda at play? 
  • Checking all supporting materials requested by Congress from other government entities. In what ways might these reports influence the process?

Legislative histories are useful to:

  • Understand the intent.  Courts might use the intent as a guide in decision making, or policymakers might consider intent when determining if the policy is effective. Is it doing what it was meant to do? Should it be revised, renewed, replaced?
  • Identify issues that were not accounted for at the enactment stage and only emerged once the policy was implemented. How might it be changed to address these unforeseen challenges?

How a Bill Becomes a Law