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Federal Legislative History

This guide provides an overview of how to locate federal legislative history.

How to Find a Public Law Number

Legislative history compilations and the documents themselves are often organized by public law number, bill number, or title of the act.

A first step is to locate the public law number. The first public law to pass a Congress is designated number 1. Pub. L. No. 105-1 would be the first bill introduced in the 105th Congress. Each subsequent public law is numbered sequentially throughout the two-year term of a Congress.  

There are numerous ways to find public law numbers. One easy way is to look at the legislative history notes that follow the text of an Act in an annotated code such as:

 US Code Annotated (USCA) LAW REFERENCE 2nd floor  KF 62.5 .W45 (available on Westlaw)

US Code Service (USCS) LAW FEDERAL 1st floor  KF 62.5 .L49

The notes in these codes should contain the date of passage, the public law number, and the Statutes at Large citation.

Statutes At Large LAW FEDERAL 1st floor  KF 50 .U545 (available on HeinOnline and FDsys)

If you only know the subject of an act, use the subject indexes in USCA or USCS to find the public law number. 

If you know the name of an act, use the popular names tables in USCA or USCS or find the public law number in:

Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Name LAW REFERENCE 2nd floor  KF 90 .S538  2010

If you need to find the bill number to use one of these compilations, and you know the public law number, you can find the bill number in the Statutes at Large. To obtain the bill numbers for early Congresses (1st to 57th, 1789 - 1903), consult:

Legislative Reference Checklist LAW FEDERAL 1st floor  KF 49 .L43 1982 (available in HeinOnline)

Once in HeinOnline, just click on the U.S. Federal Legislative History link on the left, and then the Legislative Reference Checklist in the "Browse" column on the left.
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