HeinOnline's Tip of the Week: Are you looking for the legislative history of a bill?

Tips and Tricks, U.S. Federal Legislative History

Are you trying to determine the legislative history of the Consumer Product Safety Act or the Investment Advisors Act of 1940? HeinOnline offers you three sources for compiled legislative histories, all of which can be found in the U.S. Federal Legislative History library. The first source is full text legislative histories. HeinOnline contains more than 1,000 full-text legislative histories.  Secondly, Nancy P. Johnson’s Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database. We transformed Johnson’s print publication into a searchable database, making it easy for you to search for a compilation by public law number, public law name or popular name.  The third item is the Legislative Reference Checklist.

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate how to find the legislative history of a bill. We want to find the compiled legislative history for the Administrative Procedure Act. To do this, open the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library in HeinOnline.

Once you open the library, you will see the collection home page. This page displays both of the resources we mentioned earlier which include a link to the database and a link to the 1,000+ full-text compilations.

When beginning your search for a legislative history, we suggest always browsing or searching the Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database first. Why? If HeinOnline contains the full text of the legislative history you are searching for, we will link you directly from the database to the full-text. Therefore, click on “Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database”.

When you click on this, you will be presented with 2 different browsing options. You can browse by Congress or you can browse by a list of public laws. No matter which browse option you choose, we will provide you with a link to the compilation in the database as well as a link to the statute.

We also allow you to search across the entire database. To do this, click on the Search tab in the top left hand corner. Then click on “Search Sources of Compiled Legislation”.

This will bring up a customized search screen that will allow you to search by Bill Number, Congress,  Related Document Date or Title, Popular Name of a Public Law, Public Law Number, or the Title of a Public Law.

You may also search the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database by clicking on Search Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database from the browse screen for Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database.

In our example, we want to find the Administrative Procedure Act, public law number 79-404. To do this, enter Administrative Procedure Act into the first search box, click on phrase, and select Popular Name of Public Law from the drop down menu. Then click search.

You may also access this search men

This will return 1 result with a direct link to the compilation in the database.

NOTE: We also could have inserted the public law number, 79-404, and selected Public Law Number from the drop down and clicked search. Both would return the same result.

Click on the Public Law Number to view the database entry. Every database entry will begin by displaying the Public Law Number, Bill Number, and a link to the Statute. Followed by this information, you will find a list of other relevant legislative documents that make up the history of the public law. In this case, we see several references to law review articles that discuss the Administrative Procedure Act. If the article is available in HeinOnline, the Reference line will appear as a hot link allowing you to access the full text of the article.

We also see an entry that begins with “Set Title” indicating that there is a full-text compiled legislative history for this public law. This also appears as a hot link and indicates that the full text of the compiled legislative history is available in HeinOnline. If you click on “Administrative Procedure Act” it will open the full-text as it is available in HeinOnline. If the full-text is not available in HeinOnline, the name will not appear as a link. We will however still display it to provide you with full reference information.

If you try searching the database and cannot find the public law that you are looking for, then you can try finding it in HeinOnline’s 1,000+ full-text legislative histories. To do this, click on the Resources tab and select U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection under the Browse options.  You may browse these titles by Publication Title, Public Law Number, or Popular Name.  Publication Title and Popular Name appear alphabetically and Public Law Numbers are in numerical order.


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