AND ANSWERS IN
LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY RESEARCH
following material was taken and edited from an article
appearing in the March/April 1998 issue of the Law Librarians'
Society of Washington D.C. newsletter, Law Library
Lights (v. 41, no. 4), entitled "Legislative Inquiries
and Conundrums". The authors were members of the Legislative
Research Special Interest Section and included Catherine
Rogalin with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton;
Rick McKinney with the Federal Reserve Board; Debbie
Atkins with Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn;
Carol Waesche with Steptoe & Johnson; Ellen
Sweet, now with the National Education Library;
Charlotte White with Covington & Burling; Judy
Manion with Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; and Julia
Taylor, now with Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky.
This re-edited version was prepared
by Rick McKinney and Ellen Sweet.
- Questions on Bills and Resolutions
- Questions on U.S. laws and the U.S. Code
- Questions on Legislative Histories
- Questions on the Congressional Record
- Questions on Hearings, Committee Rosters &
- Questions on Executive Orders & Federal Regulations
I. Questions on
Bills and Resolutions:
Q: In the
news I have heard the term "Congressional bill" and the
term "Congressional resolution". What is the difference?
A: There are
four types of legislation used by Congress for different
Bill: This is the vehicle which
Congress uses for most legislation and is identified by
either H.R. or S. (which designates the originating chamber)
and a number given sequentially upon the bill's introduction.
New numerical sequences are applied to bills at the start
of each two year Congress; the same for resolutions.
Joint Resolution: Once, this
was used for general legislation, but now it is used for
constitutional amendments or special legislative purposes
(such as continuing appropriations). It is identified
by S.J.Res. or H.J.Res. and a number.
Concurrent Resolution: This is
used for expressing fact, principles, opinions or purposes
of both the House and Senate (such as a budget or adjournment
resolution) in which both chambers have a common interest.
It is identified by H.Con.Res. or S.Con.Res. and a number.
Resolution: This is sometimes
referred to as a simple resolution. It is used to regulate
the administrative or internal business in either the
House or the Senate or to express facts or opinions on
non-legislative matters. It is identified by H.Res. or
S.Res. and a number.
To become law, bills and those
joint resolutions which are not proposed constitutional
amendments, must be passed by both the House and the Senate
and presented to the President for signature. The joint
resolution that is a constitutional amendment, upon passage
by two-thirds vote by both House and Senate, and approval
by three-quarters of state legislatures, becomes an amendment
to the U.S. Constitution and is presented to the Archivist
of the United States.
Concurrent resolutions and simple
resolutions are not signed by the President nor do they
have the force of law.
Q: A patron has
a copy of a bill discussed in a newspaper article, but
says the bill does not contain the language that the paper
describes. How can that be?
generally report on new information, not on something
thatís been around for a while. The patron may have an
earlier version of a bill than one that is being described.
At this point, you need to determine the status of the
bill. It is possible that a bill has just passed in the
House or Senate. It is also possible that a Committee
has recently met and marked up the bill (meaning the Committee
has met and considered amendments to the bill) and ordered
it reported to the floor. If that is the case, then the
amendments will be incorporated into the reported bill.
Unfortunately, just because the Committee has ordered
the bill reported doesnít mean that the new version of
the bill will be available tomorrow. Committee staff usually
prepare reports on reported bills which summarizes the
bill and discusses the history and need for its enactment,
and this can take some time. Bills made available online
or those retrieved from the House or Senate documents
rooms may not yet contain the marked up text as reported.
The House and Senate Documents
Rooms only keep the most current printed version of the
bill; once they receive the reported bill, they discard
the introduced version. Donít forget, you can always call
the House Legis Office (202/225-1772) for a status check.
In addition, the fee-based online services have bill status
information, as does Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov/).
Q: I have read
that a bill was amended in committee, but I canít seem
to easily locate the amendments online or from the House
and Senate documents rooms. How can I get a copy of those
A: This question
is related to the previous question. The House and Senate
Document Rooms carry the printed text of bills as introduced,
reported, and passed, but not amendments. Thus, a messenger
to the Hill or an online search will not uncover the text
of the amendments. Try contacting the Committee to see
if they are providing copies. Also, check the Committeeís
web site; often the amendments will be posted there (especially
the House Commerce Committee). Additionally, the text
of the amendments are sometimes reprinted in specialized
topical publications, such as those published by BNA and
Tax Notes. The search may require you to call a document
delivery service to obtain copies. Finally, there is always
the chance that another colleague, who may be following
the bill, has obtained copies of the committee amendments
to the bill by having staff present at the committee markup
when the amendments were considered and copies were distributed.
Q: I understand that
sometimes a congressional bill is referred to as an "Act"
even before it gets to the President. Is that possible?
A: That is the
accurate way to refer to legislation that has passed either
the House or the Senate. It allows Congress to differentiate
between bills that are still within the originating chamber
and those that have moved out of the originating chamber.
When bills are printed after being passed by one chamber
(the engrossed version) and are sent to the other chamber
(as referred) they will have the words "An Act" printed
on them instead of the words "A Bill". Unfortunately this
differentiation actually obscures the difference between
legislation that has passed one chamber and legislation
that has been enacted. A bill that has cleared both chambers
in the same form is sent to the President in an "enrolled
By the way, bills referred to
the other chamber are generally printed and made available
to the public, but the duplicate engrossed version as
passed by one chamber is not printed; neither are enrolled
versions cleared by both chambers and sent to the President.
However, these versions are both made available electronically
(GPO Access, Thomas, others).
Q: Where can I look for
the text of bills introduced in Congress many decades
ago, but not enacted?
A: The Law Library
of Congress maintains hard copy and microfiche copies
of most all Congressional bills ever introduced and some
law school libraries (like Harvard) have obtained this
microfiche collection. However, many university law libraries
hold the entire Congressional Information Service (CIS)
microfiche collection of House and Senate bills which
dates from the 73rd Congress (1933). Through its "Documents
on Demand" service CIS will sell microfiche or hard copy
blowbacks of specific bills or Congresses from its collection.
Beginning in 1979 (96th Congress)
the U.S. Government Printing Office has made microfiche
copies of all bills and resolutions available to government
Another source for old bills
is the Congressional Record, especially for copies of
Senate bills, which since the 1960s are frequently printed
upon introduction. Occasionally the Record (usually in
its Extension of Remarks section) reproduces the text
of newly introduced House bills. The Index to the Congressional
Record (Bound Edition) will note when the text of a bill
appears in the Record. Bills that pass one chamber, but
not the other, are normally printed in the Record, and
the text of conference reports are also printed there
as well. If the bill is reported out of committee in the
House, the text of the reported bill can normally be found
in the accompanying committee report (which are rarely
if ever published in the Record). Senate reports normally
do not contain the text of a reported bill that is published
A third possibility is in a Congressional
hearing. Frequently bills, as introduced, will be printed
in the hearing addressing that bill or the bill's subject
matter. It is best to check the CIS Index to see if hearings
were held on the legislation. You can also determine hearings
by using old committee calendars and the CCH Congressional
Index, which references hearings in its Status Table section.
Online versions of bill texts
only go back to the late 1980's.
The Law Librarians' Society's
Union List of Legislative Documents has information on
libraries who have microfiche bill collections and also
on libraries who have retained selected bills in hard
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Questions on U.S. Laws and Code:
Q: A patron says he has
read a newspaper article that talks about a law that was
just passed on the Hill and he wants to see a copy of
that law. What should I do? How do I get a copy of a new
A: First, check
the article and make sure it does, indeed, say that the
bill has passed both chambers and is cleared for the President.
Oftentimes, the news report is on the action of one of
the chambers. Remember that before a bill is signed into
law, it needs to have cleared both chambers in identical
format. A bill that has passed one chamber will normally
be printed in the Congressional Record and an "engrossed"
version (version passed one chamber) of the bill will
become available online and a printed copy referred to
the other chamber.
If the article does say the bill
is headed to the President, you need to determine whether
the bill has actually been received at the White House.
A phone call to the White House Executive Clerk (202/456-2226)
will provide you with the information. There is no requirement
for Congress to immediately present the bill (as enrolled)
for signature; sometimes it takes a month or more for
a bill to travel down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The
President has ten days (excluding Sundays and Holidays)
from receiving the bill to sign or veto it.
After the President signs the
bill into law, the bill is sent to the Office of the Federal
Register for public law and Statutes at Large numbering.
The House Law Revision Counsel usually will have already
assigned sections of the enrolled bill to sections of
the U.S. Code unless the legislation is particularly long
or if many laws are enacted around the same time (like
the end of a session).
It may take several weeks, if
not months, before a law is formally published as a "slip
law" (pamphlet) with statute pages at the top and U.S.
Code cites in the margins. The information, however, is
usually online long before that time. The enrolled version
of the enacted legislation (PDF version on GPO ACCESS)
will have the same page format as the slip law. So after
the Office of the Federal Register has assigned a volume
and statute number to the first page one can easily figure
out what the proper statute pages are to the rest of the
law by adding the cite (minus one) to the other pages
in the enrolled version of the bill.
To figure out the U.S. Code cite,
the Law Revision Counsel in the House of Representatives
will have published a table of assigned sections to new
laws. See http://uscode.house.gov/uscct.htm. Also the
Statutes Division of the Office of the Federal Register
has a copy of the enrolled bill as sent to the President
on file for photocopying.
GPO ACCESS, THOMAS and other
online services will have copies of the legislation available
for downloading. You need to choose the "enrolled" version
of the bill since this contains the final language presented
to the President. For some acts, especially large omnibus
appropriations acts that need to be quickly enacted, an
enrolled copy may not be prepared for the President's
signature and one may have to rely on the agreed text
language in the conference report. Conference reports
are always published in the Congressional Record the day
they are filed.
Once the slip law is printed,
you can obtain hard copies of the law in several places.
Both the House and Senate Documents Rooms carry slip laws
when they are printed and they are distributed to government
depository libraries as well. Also, advance sheets to
the United States Code and Congressional and Administrative
News (USCCAN), the United States Code Annotated (USCA),
and the United States Code Service (USCS) carry the text
of laws although these can take longer to be printed and
available. BNAís United States Law Week reprints major
legislation, and its Daily Report for Executives also
carries text of major bills. Topical newsletters may also
be sources that reproduce the text of selected laws in
their subject field.
Q: I only have been provided
the popular name to an Act, how can I find the text?
A: A popular
name index to U.S. public laws can be found among the
volumes of the United States Code, the United Code Annotated,
and the United States Code Service. These indices will
identify the proper statute, its amendments, and cites
to the sections of the Code. Another index is Shepard's
Acts and Cases by Popular Names: Federal and State. If
the popular name index does not seem to contain your act
you might try variations of the name or conducting a database
search among law reviews and news stories.
Q: The popular name I
have been provided is not really to a law, rather itís
called the "Byrd Amendment". How do I find it?
A: There is
no reference source translating popular named amendments
to the code location. Generally, the best source for tracking
down this type of information is to run several online
searches of law review articles, news articles, and the
Congressional Record, for if the provision obtained a
popular name as an amendment, it was probably discussed
with that name by members of Congress or members of the
press. It is important to ask your patron if he or she
has any clue about what the subject matter of the amendment
concerns. For example, there are several popularly named
Byrd Amendments: one on government procurement, another
on extraneous budget items, and another still on government
Q: Do U.S. laws become
effective when the President signs them and is that the
same as the date of enactment?
A: The date
of enactment is the same as the date on which the President
signs the bill into law. The effective date may be the
date of the signature or it may be stipulated within the
law, such as 60 days after enactment, or by designating
a specific date of enforcement. The date of a law's effectiveness
sometimes has its own section number (usually at the end)
and different titles or sections of a public law may specify
different dates of effectiveness.
Q: Is it correct to say
that Congress passed a law or do you have to add the Presidentís
A: The popular
expression of "Congress passed a law" is true in that
Congress passes legislation that becomes law upon President's
signature, with the exceptions of a Congressional override
of a Presidential veto or when the President allows a
bill to become law without his signature. So technically,
only under the two exceptions could you say definitively
that Congress passed a particular law, but even then you
would want to include the reference to the veto override
or that it was allowed to become law. However, it is quite
common to say that Congress passed a law or that Congress
enacted a law. While technically this is not quite true,
there really is no short worded way to express the concept.
After all, Congress is the legislative body that makes
the laws and as author of these laws, it is Congress that
normally receives the credit or blame for their enactment.
Q. I have a citation
to a section in a U.S. public law. How do I find where
it is located in the United States Code?
to each public law are cross indexed to the Code in table
volumes to the United States Code, the United States Code
Service, and the United States Code Annotated. The Law
Revision Counsel in the House of Representatives prepares
tables for recent public laws (both from section to code
section and from code section to law section) and makes
it available from 1997 forward on its web site (http://uscode.house.gov/uscct.htm).
Also, each public law (in statute volume or slip form)
has the applicable U.S. Code cite to each section of the
law printed in the side margin.
Q: Over the years a law
that a patron is interested in was amended many times.
Where can I find the text of a current law with all of
its current amendments properly inserted in its given
sections as a public law, rather than its assigned sections
in the United States Code?
A: There really
is no officially published compilation of current U.S.
statutes except those titles published as part of the
U.S. Code or those published laws that have never been
amended. Sometimes, a federal agency or a congressional
committee which has jurisdiction over a law will publish
an updated version of a particular law or compilation
of laws, but these are still unofficial. Commercial publishers,
such as loose-leaf services, might also publish unofficial,
updated versions of laws. The Legislative Counsel's Office
in the House and the Senate assist members of Congress
in writing bills so that laws are amended to the proper
section, paragraph, sentence and word, but Congress may
not always get it right and technical amendments may need
to be enacted.
Q: Why are early laws
cited by their chapter number and not their public law
a statute encompassed all the laws and resolutions in
a single Congressional session, and a chapter was considered
as one law or resolution in that statute. Some states,
even today, have a similar system. Although the U.S. Statutes
At Large would divide public from private acts in its
publication volumes, chapter numbers were actually assigned
in chronological sequence to all public and private laws
and resolutions in a statute during one Congressional
session. What may look like skipped chapter numbers in
the public law section is probably located in the private
It becomes more complicated because
a single Congress in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries might have two to four sessions. Thus the same
chapter number might be assigned to two to four different
laws in the same Congress. The date of enactment and a
statute page cite might also be shared by another law.
It is sufficient, however, to cite older laws with all
three identifiers as in "the Act of June 20, 1874, Chap.
341, 18 Stat. 123". When amendments were made to older
laws frequently a longer identifier was used as in "the
act of June twentieth eighteen hundred and seventy four
entitled 'An act fixing the amount of United States notes,
providing for redistribution of national security, and
for other purposes'."
Unique public and private law
numbers were assigned to individual laws as early as 1908
with the 60th Congress (as in Public No. 107 Ė 60th Cong.)
and placed in the margin or heading area of a law but
these did not become official identifiers until 1957.
Since 1957 sequentially assigned public law numbers became
the unique identifier for public laws and a sequentially
assigned private law number became the unique identifier
for private laws, but chapter numbers are the official
designators for laws prior to 1957.
By their nature, unique identifiers
do not need to be accompanied by other information to
be identified, but official citation manuals generally
require more information, as in the "National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969, Pub. L. No. 91-190, 83 Stat. 852"
or "Priv. L. No. 94-75, 90 Stat. 2985 (1976)".
Q. I have been told that
titles of the United States Code are only "prima facie"
law. What does that mean and can I rely on them?
A. "Prima facie"
is Latin for "at first sight" or "on first appearance",
"on the face of it". It is fact presumed to be true unless
disproved by some evidence to the contrary (Black's Law
Dictionary). In 1926, some members of the Senate balked
at enacting the United States Code into "positive and
legal evidence of the law" while repealing all previous
law. This was no doubt due in part to the many alleged
inaccuracies of the similarly enacted Revised Statutes
of the United States in 1873. A compromise to have the
Code enacted "prima facie" for a period of one year, in
order to work out the bugs, was also ultimately not acceptable
either. Thus, although the U.S. Code was enacted as part
of the United States Statutes At Large it was never as
a whole approved as positive law. If there is some discrepancy
between the Code and a statute and its statutory amendments,
the statute rules.
The United States Code, although
not enacted as positive law, is regularly updated, and
as a subject organized consolidation of all general and
permanent statutes in force, it is today looked upon as
the primary source for current law.
Over the years since 1925 many
titles of the United States Code have been carefully revised,
codified with new sections and enacted separately into
positive law (but not their appendices which were assigned
to the title later). These enacted titles include titles
1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32,
35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 44, 46, and 49. Thus a total of 23
out of 48 titles of the United States Code (titles 6 and
34 were repealed or eliminated) have been enacted into
positive law and their text is legal evidence of the law.
The matter contained in other titles of the Code is prima
facie evidence of the laws. The Internal Revenue Code,
which is identical to title 26 of the U.S. Code has also
been enacted into positive law.
It is now part of the duties
of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives
to revise and prepare other titles for enactment into
positive law. The Law Revision Counsel also assigns Code
sections to newly enacted laws.
Q: I have found number
of places in the U.S. Code with references to federal
entities that no longer exist. How can that happen?
when a law abolishes or merges federal entities, complete
conforming amendments to other parts of the Code are not
made at the same time. Thus there is the discrepancy.
When selected titles of the Code are enacted into positive
law, the Law Revision Counsel will do the research and
try to make the necessary changes to other parts of the
Code. In lieu of the Law Revision Counsel doing work to
recodify a title there is usually no vocal constituency
pushing Congress to clean up a statute or a portion of
Q. I have a cite to the
19th century Revised Statutes of the United States. Is
this law still valid, and what about U.S. laws enacted
before that time?
A. "An act providing
for publication of the Revised Statutes and laws of the
United States" was approved on June 20, 1874. In section
2 of the Act, the Secretary of State was charged with
the duty of causing to be prepared the printing, publication,
and distribution of the Revised Statutes of the United
States which would contain a revised and consolidated
compilation by subject of all the general and permanent
laws of the United States in force on December 1, 1873
(published in 1875, see 18 Stat., part I). All acts embraced
by the revision prior to that date were repealed and the
revision would act as a substitute, but any law or portion
of those laws not embraced by the revision and not repealed
or superceded (such as local, private, and appropriation
laws) would still be in force (see section 5596 of the
However, although a great deal
of competent persons worked on the revision from 1866
through 1873, it was discovered even before the publication
of the Revised Statutes that there were numerous errors
not intended by Congress. To correct these errors and
to bring the revision up to January 1, 1878, a new edition
of the Revised Statutes was published as a unnumbered
volume of the Statutes At Large. The 1878 revision was
not enacted into positive law ("legal and conclusive evidence
of all laws contained therein"), but merely prima facie
law ("legal evidence") and would "not preclude reference
to, nor control, in case of any discrepancy, the effect
of any original act as passed by Congress since the first
day of December, eighteen hundred and seventy-three" (see
Act of March 9, 1878, chap. 26, 20 Stat. 27).
Today there are still laws that
amend and refer to the Revised Statutes of the United
States (such as the national banking laws), but they are
not amendments to the Revised Statutes of 1878. However,
a table on the status of each section of the Revised Statutes
of 1878 and where it can be found in the United States
Code is located at the beginning of the tables volume
of the U.S.C., U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.
Many treaties (especially Indian
treaties) and certain private and local laws approved
before 1874 may still be binding even though they were
not included in the Revised Statutes of the United States.
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Questions on Legislative Histories:
Q: In United States Code
and Congressional and Administrative News I canít find
any legislative history information on a particular section
of the U.S. Code Iím looking at, even though that is where
the annotation in the U.S.C.A. told me to look. What gives?
A: The United
States Code and Congressional and Administrative News
(USCCAN) does not include all pertinent legislative history
documents to a particular law, or even the references
to them ó it is simply a starting point that has important
drawbacks. It will set out the text of new laws, but the
legislative history material included is usually rather
spotty. USCCAN will publish that portion of a conference
report which contains the joint explanatory statement
of the conferees on a bill that has become law (if there
is one), and it will also set out the text of one of the
related committee reports (if there is one) from the House
or Senate. At the beginning of the legislative history
portion of a law USCCAN will generally note the committee
report number of a companion piece of legislation as well
the dates of passage in each chamber. The actual amount
of remarks and debate related to the lawís history may
be far more extensive, even going back to previous Congresses
and the lawís related bills and reports may be much more
numerous than those listed as well. These are editorial
decisions that the publisher, the West Group, makes, based
partially, no doubt, on space limitations.
So beware! The United State Code
Annotated (USCA), also published by West, will note in
its annotations the available USCCAN legislative history
of a law cited to as authority by a particular section
of the Code, but the history, while related to the law,
may have nothing relevant to say about the particular
section in question. Even if you find some relevant legislative
history in USCCAN, there may be many other very pertinent
pieces of the legislative history to the section that
are not included in USCCAN. This is particularly true
for lengthy and/or complicated legislation (such as omnibus
bills) and/or legislation that took more than one Congress
to be enacted. Try to supplement the information in USCCAN
with other sources whenever possible. Often, the legislative
history notes at the very end of the slip law not only
identify the bill enacted, but also the number of the
companion bill in the other chamber. You can use these
bill numbers as starting points for further research using
online databases, the Internet, or even the "History of
Bills and Resolutions" section of the bound Congressional
Record to get a more complete picture. In recent decades
the annual CIS Legislative History volume provides abstracts
and notes on most of the legislative history documents
to a particular law.
Q: A patron has requested
a legislative history of a particular public law that
we do not own and may not have collected documents for.
What should I do?
just looking in USCCAN will answer the request. USCCAN
reprints Congressional reports ó generally the conference
report joint explanatory statement and either the House
or Senate Committee report. Often, this will be sufficient
for your requester. If the patron decides more information
is needed, first remember to check the Union List of Legislative
Histories volume of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington,
D.C. (LLSDC). Many agencies and firms in D.C. and elsewhere
compile and bind legislative histories for their agency
or firmís use. Do not reinvent the wheel.
If no one has the required history,
youíll need to begin gathering the items included in a
legislative history including the law, reports, debate,
bills, hearings, and any other relevant documents.
Start slowly, since the answer
to their particular question may be in the report or the
debate, so there may be no need to track down all the
parts. If you are unsure which documents are relevant,
try looking at the CIS Legislative History series for
the year your law was enacted. For laws prior to 1970,
when CIS began publishing, it is best to start with the
History of Bills and Resolutions in the bound Congressional
Record Index of the session or Congress during which your
law was proposed or enacted.
All Congressional reports are
reprinted in the United States Serial Set, published by
the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The Set now
has over 14,000 volumes and contains documents dating
from 1833. All regional government depository libraries
will own the U.S. Serial Set and many other large libraries
may own portions of it or have it on microfiche. GPO publishes
an index to the schedules and volumes of the U.S. Serial
Set and CIS also produces a detailed index. Check LLSDCís
Union List of Legislative Documents to locate local libraries
holding the set and the indices.
Hearings are generally considered
the weakest source of legislative intent, but sometimes
a statement by a witness, particularly one from a relevant
agency, is right on point and be your only relevant source.
The CIS Index is your best source to identify hearings
and a number of libraries around the city and the country
keep the CIS microfiche collection of hearings and others
retain selected hard copy of hearings that correspond
to their usual subject collections (i.e., a firm that
practices tax law would most likely have tax hearings,
In the recent decades complete
legislative histories for selected public laws have been
placed on WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS and both services have
the Congressional Record online back to 1985 and Congressional
bills and reports back to 1989. Other online sources such
as GPO ACCESS, THOMAS, CIS Congressional Universe, and
CQ.com OnCongress also have various Congressional documents
and material useful for creating legislative histories
(see "Sources of Online Legislative and Regulatory Information"
located in another part of this publication).
Q: In a large legislative
history, how do I figure out the best place to look for
the legislative intent of a particular provision?
A: The most
likely place to find legislative intent language is generally
at the point the provision made its way into the history
of the act. Start by determining the "coordinates" of
your particular provision by finding the provision in
the slip law and noting its context. Note the exact wording,
the section numbering and heading of the provision, the
title containing the provision, the provisions preceding
and following it, etc. This effort will help you more
easily locate the provision in earlier versions of bill
texts and in explanatory language in the historyís reports,
debates and hearings.
After noting these things the
first place to examine legislative intent is in the joint
explanatory statement of the conference report (if there
is one). Since the agreed upon text of a conference report
is generally the same text as presented to President and
is in the final stage of the legislative process, joint
statements by the conferees generally hold considerable
weight as far Congressional intent goes. There may be
no section numbering in the joint explanatory statement
but such statements are almost always organized in the
same order as the agreed upon legislative text in the
conference report and if you have noted the location context
of your provision you should be able to find some sort
of brief explanation about it.
If there is little of relevance
in the joint explanatory statement or if you want to find
more relevant statements try examining some of the bills
as reported to see if the same provision (or similar provision
worded differently) is present and then check the billsí
accompanying committee reports for relevant explanations
or section-by-section summaries. It is also helpful to
review the background or purpose section of the reports.
If your provision is not located
in any of the bills as reported then there is a good chance
that it was added on the House or Senate floor. In that
case there may well be an explanation in the Congressional
Record for the provision when the amendment was dealt
with on the floor. Or perhaps the provision is the same
as introduced and there might be an introductory statement
by the sponsor in the Congressional Record. Witnesses
at Congressional hearings (especially witnesses from federal
agencies with jurisdiction) may have made comments about
the provision or about the need for such a provision and
these can be reviewed. A large legislative history may
go back several Congresses and thus additional bills,
reports, debates, and hearings might have to be examined
The same steps can be employed
electronically (and usually more easily) if the law was
enacted in the last decade and a half. All bill texts
in an entire Congress can be searched for certain key
words in your provision and all statements in the Congressional
Record can be searched as well. Although unofficial, many
prepared witness statements and verbatim transcripts of
Congressional hearings are also searchable online. News
articles with possible explanations for your provision
might also be searched, but this of course would have
little weight before a court.
Recap: to find the legislative
intent of a particular provision in a large legislative
history, first find your provision in the slip law and
determine its context so that you may use this information
to locate similar language in the component documents
of the legislative history. In the legislative history,
the best places to find substantive comment by Congress
is at the point the provision is added or amended in the
history. The order of preference of documents to find
legislative intent is usually the following: 1) the joint
explanatory statement (usually brief) in the conference
report, if there is one; 2) the summary or explanatory
language in committee reports; 3) the remarks, discussion
and debate in the Congressional Record, especially those
by the floor managers or key sponsors of the legislation;
and 4) the statements made in Congressional hearings.
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IV. Questions on the Congressional Record:
Q: On C-SPAN a patron
heard a member of Congress make an inflammatory remark
on the floor of the House several days ago. However, I
can not seem to find the remarks in the Congressional
Record. Doesnít the Record reproduce remarks verbatim?
A: The simple
answer is, no, it is not verbatim. Congressional members
are allowed a brief time to edit their remarks before
the Record is printed the next day. Many of them use this
opportunity to correct glaring grammatical errors, as
well as off-the-cuff remarks, that they would prefer be
removed from public record. They also have a second chance
to change their remarks before the bound edition is published.
In the House of Representatives, inflammatory remarks
can also be stricken from the Record on a point of order
to "take down the words." Clause 9 of Rule XIV of the
Rules of the House of Representatives mandates that the
Record be a "substantially verbatim" account of debate,
but permits the deletion of unparliamentary remarks by
order of the House.
Although rarely used in the Senate,
Clause 5 of Rule 19 of the Standing Rules of the Senate
also permits the taking down of "exceptionable words".
Such exceptionable or objectionable words may then be
ordered expunged from the Record on a simple unanimous
It is also good to know that
not everything printed in the Record was actually spoken
on the floor. Insertions of speeches, articles and bill
texts are very common. Generally, in the House, these
insertions are printed in a slightly different font (sans-serif)
to make it obvious which remarks were said aloud and which
were inserted later. In the Senate there are bullets placed
before such insertions.
Q: How can I find the
citation to the bound volume of the Congressional Record
if I only have the cite to the daily edition?
A: There is
no source that will give you the exact correlation between
daily and permanent edition pages. This requires a bit
of research. Since the 1960's, the Daily Edition has been
numbered sequentially within certain segments, S for Senate
chamber actions, H for House chamber actions, E for extension
of remarks, HL for lobbyist listings, and D for the Daily
Digest. The Bound Edition of the Congressional Record
just numbers everything sequentially in any given Congressional
session (except for the Daily Digest section). The Bound
Edition is generally published several years after the
Daily Edition comes out and currently there is no publicly
available electronic source for it. However, it is considered
the authoritative cite once it is published. Most government
depository libraries will generally have the bound Congressional
Record in microform, but now only regional depository
libraries receive it in hard copy.
If the cite is to the debate
with no bill number, find the part of the Congressional
Record that includes the date on which the debate occurred
in the Daily Digest section of the Bound Edition (the
last book in any volume of the permanent edition). In
the Daily Digest, go to the date of the debate and then
find the reference in the Daily Digest for that particular
debate. This will give you either the beginning page or
the range of pages for the debate. It will also give you
an outline of debate so you may be able to guess how far
into the debate you may want to search for your cite.
Now you read through the debate looking for your quote.
If the cite is to a member speaking
about a bill, find the part in the Bound Edition of Congressional
Record that includes your date and find the member in
the Bound Edition's Index/History of Bills. The Index
groups comments by members by type: Amendments offered,
bills and resolutions introduced by, remarks on, etc.
Find the member whose quote you need. Make a note of the
Congressional Record page numbers covered for your date
and look in the material listed under the member for a
page which falls within your designated range. [Beginning
in 1983, volumes of the Index contain the dates with the
page numbers. This date information is not included in
the History of Bills.] You can also use this method when
searching for colloquies. Just look for a page where both
members are listed as speaking.
If you have a copy of the page
in the Daily Edition then you can use it to visually locate
it in the Bound Edition. Frequently the Bound Edition
page will look exactly the same as the Daily with same
paragraphs in the same place. If not, you can at least
zero in on a nearby paragraph that begins with a certain
phrase or unusual word.
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Questions on Hearings, Committee Rosters, and Treaties:
Q. The Congressional
Information Services (CIS) Index does not seem to list
a particular congressional hearing that was held several
years ago. I'm pretty sure the hearing took place. Where
else can I look?
A. Some hearings
are never published such as those concerning national
security and minor nominations to executive and judicial
positions. Others may take several years to be published
depending on the priorities of the committee. Two or three
month after being held is usually is the fastest time
a hearing gets published. To verify that a hearing took
place you can check the Daily Digest section of the Congressional
Record, but this source may not always have field hearings
or hearings taking place after Congress has adjourned.
You could also call the committee, look at its home page
or get a hold of the published committee calendar. Of
commercial online sources, CQ.com OnCongress is probably
the most accurate (they call to verify witnesses have
spoken). To get the text of a hearing before it gets officially
published you might try obtaining the prepared statements
from the witnesses or from the committee, if they have
extra copies. Many federal agencies and committees place
prepared statements on their Internet web pages. Commercially,
Federal News Service (FNS) and Federal Documents Clearing
House both make prepared statements and some Q&A transcripts
(FNS should have most of them) available electronically
(by subscription) via the Internet, LEXIS-NEXIS, WESTLAW,
CQ's OnCongress, Dialog, DataTimes, and Dow Jones News
Services and others. However, it is important to realize
that these commercial transcripts are unofficial. Before
a hearing gets published witnesses are generally given
copies of the transcripts of their remarks and are allowed
to edit them.
Q: Where can I find a
list of congressional committee members in a previous
A: Since 1947
(80th Congress) a list of the members of Congressional
committees have been published in the annual edition of
United States Code and Congressional and Administrative
News, published by the West Group. Further back, the official
Congressional Directory, published by GPO and printed
as a Senate print or publication, has been around since
the1830s. Most all government depository libraries receive
the Congressional Directory, although few would have it
as far back as the 19th century. The Center for Legislative
Archives (202-501-5350) of the National Archives and Records
Administration does have the Directory back that far and
it is also regularly published as a volume of the United
States Congressional Serial Set held by many government
Other sources include old committee
calendars and old congressional hearings as members of
the committee and the subcommittee holding the hearing
are normally listed inside the front cover of each hearing.
Q: Where can I find the
text of a treaty entered into by the United States in
A: Before 1950
all U.S. treaties with foreign nations were officially
published at the end of each volume of the United States
Statutes At Large. A microform compilation of this pre-1950
series is available to federal depository libraries and
is entitled Treaties and Other International Agreements
of the U.S. (1776-1949). Since 1949 treaties have been
continuously published in slip form as part of the Treaties
and Other International Agreements Series (TIAS), and
in bound form in the U.S. Treaties and Other International
Agreements (UST). The annual State Department list, Treaties
in Force, organized by country and subject, gives you
the official cite to a particular bilateral or multilateral
treaty that is currently in force.
Senate treaty documents or executive
reports also contain treaties and agreements, and since
1979, these documents have been made part of the large
multi-volume U.S. Congressional Serial Set. There have
also been unofficial printed and electronic compilations
of U.S. treaties (Bevans, Hein, Oceana as well as LEXIS
(see INTLAW library, USTRTY file dating from 1783) and
WESTLAW (see USTREATIES file dating from 1979).
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Questions on Executive Orders and Federal Regulations:
Q: How can I find the
text of a Presidential executive order if I only have
its number, and how can I tell if itís still valid?
Orders of the President are officially published in a
variety of places including the Federal Register, the
Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Title 3
of the Code of Federal Regulations, and the Public Papers
of the President (before 1989) series. Most policy-oriented
executive orders also are assigned to a particular section
of the United States Code and published in the note field
following that section. The location of these assigned
orders, as well as whether the order was eliminated, can
found in the back of the tables volume of the United States
Code, the United States Code Annotated, and the United
States Code Service. In the past, the Office of the Federal
Register has published compilations of executive orders
of general applicability and continuing effect. The last
one published is entitled Codification of Presidential
Proclamations and Executive Orders: April 13, 1945 - January
20, 1989. On its web site the Office maintains a disposition
table of executive orders from 1961 to the present; see
Presidential executive orders can also be found in the
annual United States Code and Congressional and Administrative
News (USCCAN) published by the West Group and on various
online services which publish the Federal Register or
the U.S. Code. WESTLAW also has executive orders dating
from 1936 in their PRES file and LEXIS-NEXIS has the same
dating from 1981 in their file, PRESDC.
Q: How can I find the implementing
regulations to a specific section of a U.S. public law?
First, using tables in the United States Code
Service (U.S.C.S.) or the United States Code Annotated
(U.S.C.A.) find the U.S. Code cite to the section of the
public law. Then look up that section in the U.S.C.S.
or the U.S.C.A. and see if the note field following the
text of the section gives a corresponding reference to
the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).
If there is no corresponding
reference there, look in the CFR Index and Finding Aids
to the "Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules" which
organizes parallel tables to the C.F.R. by U.S. Code section,
Statutes At Large cites, public laws, and Presidential
documents. These authority cites are designed to match
those authorities listed at the beginning of each part
of the Code of Federal Regulations The C.F.R, organized
by subject title and agency, is reissued annually after
being updated to include finalized agency rules published
in the daily Federal Register during the previous year.
As all these cross-references and parallel tables may
not pick up every rule change and do not reflect proposed
rules, it may be wise to perform an online search of the
Federal Register and perhaps check the Federal Register
Index in the year(s) following enactment of a U.S. Code
section or section amendment.
It must be noted that many sections
of the United States Code may not have regulations that
implement them or there may be many regulations listed
under a Code cite that are only tangentially related to
that section of the law. Similarly it is sometimes difficult
to tell which authority cite to the U.S. Code in a part
of the Code of Federal Regulations actually prompted a
regulation and which authority cite is only tangentially
related to the regulation or only refers to an agency's
general powers and responsibilities.
Q: How come I can not find a
summary and rationale for a particular rule in the Code
of Federal Regulations, but preambles of this nature
can be found when the rule is published in the Federal
According to its Document Drafting Handbook,
the Office of the Federal Register mandates certain "preamble
requirements" from federal agencies when they publish
their proposed or final rules in the Federal Register.
These requirements delineate the basic "who, what, where,
when, and why" information and are set out as AGENCY,
ACTION, SUMMARY, EFFECTIVE DATE (or DATES when comments
are due), FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT, and SUPPLEMENTAL
INFORMATION (which generally explains the regulatory history,
the rationale for the rule, and a summary of the comments
The preamble to a new or revised
rule is not part of the regulation, per se, and thus is
not required to be published in the Code of Federal Regulations.
It should also be noted that most preambles are written
for rule amendments rather than for the whole rule, and
thus, any general preamble would have to be continuously
updated much like a summary of a statute in a continuously
amended law. Since 1978, however, whenever a final or
proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a
preamble, following the above format, precedes the text
of the regulation. Before that time, preambles seemed
to be less lengthy and not as precisely organized, and
before 1971 brief explanations of regulations followed,
rather than preceded, the text of regulations published
in the Federal Register.
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