U.S. Laws and Legislation Guide

Legislative Process

The legislative process has several steps, each of which is associated with particular kinds of publications. In this guide, we describe each step and the publications that go with it. We also include a few additional links that go into more detail should you need them. This guide provides you with the resources you need to complete a legislative history assignment or to understand how a bill became law.

Bill Introduced

  • A member of Congress has an idea for a bill and decides to sponsor it.
  • She gives it to the clerk of the house in which she serves or places it in a box called the hopper.
  • The clerk assigns a number to the bill in consecutive order of introduction (H.R. # for House bills or S. # for Senate bills).
  • The Government Publishing Office (GPO) prints and distributes the bill to each house member.
  • There are many kinds of and versions of bills - see the Congress.gov Glossary for details.

Citation: H.R. 3512 = House of Representatives Bill 3512 and S. 880 = Senate Bill 880

Full-text of Bills

  • 103rd Cong. (1993) - present
    Congressional Bills / U.S. Government Publishing Office
  • 101st Cong. (1989) - present
    Congress.gov / U.S. Library of Congress
    Proquest Congressional
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) Y 1.4/:1 - Y 1.4/9:
  • 73rd Cong. (1934) - present
    TC Law Library Microform Collection (US Docs) Mfiche Y 1.4/:
  • 43rd Cong. (1874) - 72nd Cong. (1933)
    Selected bills are in the Congressional Record
  • 6th Cong. (1799) - 42nd Cong. (1873)
    Bills and Resolutions / U.S. Library of Congress

Bill to Committee

  • The presiding officer of the house in which the bill is introduced assigns the bill to a committee for in-depth study.
  • The standing committee (or subcommittee) maintains its own calendar and sets up hearings to allow testimony from experts and laypeople interested in the bill.
  • The committee then may vote to
    • release the bill with a recommendation to pass it
    • or revise the bill and then vote to release it (a meeting commonly called a "committee markup")
    • or vote to lay it aside so that it cannot be voted on by the full house.
  • Releasing the bill is called reporting it out, while laying it aside is called tabling.

Full-Text of Calendars, Hearings, Prints, Reports/Markup and Votes

Bill to Full House

  • If the bill is released, it then goes on the chamber calendar (a list of bills awaiting action). In the House, the Rules Committee may call for the bill to be voted on quickly, limit the debate, or limit or prohibit amendments. Undisputed bills may be passed by unanimous consent, or by a two-thirds vote if members agree to suspend the rules.
  • The bill now goes to the floor of the House for consideration and begins with a complete reading of the bill (sometimes this is the only complete reading). A third reading (title only) occurs after any amendments have been added. If the bill passes by simple majority (281 of 435), the bill moves to the Senate.
  • In the Senate, the bill goes to the floor for consideration upon release. Bills are voted on in the Senate based on the order they come from the committee; however, an urgent bill may be pushed ahead by leaders of the majority party. When the Senate considers the bill, they can vote on it indefinitely.
  • When there is no more debate, the bill is voted on. A simple majority (51 of 100) passes the bill.
  • The Office of Managment and Budget publishes Statements of Administration Policy for bills scheduled for floor activity.

Calendars, Journals and Roll Call Votes

Congressional Record & Indexes

The Congressional Record is the official transcript of debates of the House and the Senate, printed and distributed by the U. S. Government Printing Office. The Record is available in several formats, as are its indexes and predecessors. The predecessors are the Annals of Congress (1789-1824), Register of Debates (1824-1837) and Congressional Globe (1833-1873).

Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Annals of Congress)

Register of Debates

Congressional Globe

Congressional Record

  • Vol. 1, 43rd Cong. (1873) - present
    Proquest Congressional
  • Vol. 145, 106th Cong., 2nd Sess. (1999) - Vol. 147, 107th Cong., 1st Sess. (2001)
    Daily Congressional Record / U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Vol. 140, 103rd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1994) - present
    Daily Congressional Record / U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Vol. 61, 67th Cong. (1921) - present
    Congress.gov / U.S. Library of Congress
  • Vol. 132, 99th Cong., 2nd Sess. (1986) - present
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) X 1.1/A: (Daily Edition)
  • Vol. 122, 94th Cong., 2nd Sess. (1976) - present
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Ref) X 1.1:
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) X 1.1: (Bound Edition)
  • Vols. 1-121, 43rd Cong. (1873) - 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975)
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (Reference) Microfilm 61
  • Vols. 1-3, 43rd Cong. (1873-1875)
    American Memory Project / U.S. Library of Congress

Congressional Record Index

  • Vol. 140, 103rd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1994) - present
    Congress.gov / U.S. Library of Congress
  • Vol. 129, 98th Cong. (1983) - present
    Govinfo.gov / U.S. Government Publishing Office
  • Vol. 1, 43rd Cong. (1873) - present
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Ref) X 1.1: Interfiled with Congressional Record

Bill to Second Chamber

In order to be introduced in the other house, a Congressperson must be recognized and announce the introduction of the bill. Sometimes, when a bill has passed in one house, it becomes known as an act; however, this term usually means a bill that has become law. Just as in the first house, the bill then is assigned to a committee. The Senate committees then study and either release or table the bill just like the House standing committees and vice versa.

Possible Outcomes:

  • If bill goes from one chamber to the other:
    Bill keeps original number in both houses. Procedures and sources are repeated as above;
  • If bills introduced in both houses:
    one bill substituted for another under Floor Action;
  • If disagreement in versions of bill:
    conference committee called; see next step for a description of conference committee activity.

Generally, any summary of legislative activity on a bill that has been passed into law is called a "legislative history". However, there are also summaries for bills not yet (or never) passed. These summaries have no set label, but are usually called something like a "bill tracking report." There is often a good bit of overlap between the two types of publication, but they are not simply different names for the same thing. The tracking reports focus more on the details, while legislative histories take more of a "big-picture" approach.

Bill Status

History of Bills

The History of Bills and Resolutions is a section of the Congressional Record Index that provides information about all bills and resolutions introduced during that session of Congress. Entries for each bill include actions that are reported in the Congressional Record and reference issue and date and pages where the action is reported.

Legislative Histories

Bill to Conference Committee

The bill may move onto a conference committee, which is made up of members from each house. The committee works out a version the House and Senate can live with and sends it back to both houses for their final approval.

If the bill goes to conference and survives, then there is usually a published report to go with it that becomes part of that bill's legislative history.

Conference Committee Reports

Enrollment of Bills

Once approved, the bill is printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office in a process called enrolling. For a definition of an enrolled bill, see the GPO Access Congressional Bills: Glossary. The clerk from the introducing house certifies the final version. The enrolled bill is now signed by the Speaker of the House and then the Vice President.

Enrolled Bills

Act Transmitted to President

After enrollment, a bill is sent for presidential consideration. The President has ten days to sign, veto or ignore the enrolled bill.

  • Bill does becomes law when:
    • The president does sign the bill.
    • The President does not sign the bill and Congress is in session.
    • The President vetoes the bill, but two-thirds each of the Senate and the House vote to override the veto.
  • Bill does not become law when:
    • The President does not sign the bill and Congress is not in session. This is also called a "pocket veto".
    • The President vetoes the bill and it is not overridden.

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents

Includes presidential signing statements and vetoes.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Line Item Vetoes

The Line Item Veto was only in use for a year before it was declared unconstitutional. Bills vetoed through the Line-Item method only were restored to active status and provided with funding. For more information, go to Thomas's Background on the Line-Item Veto.

  • 105th Cong. (1997)
    GPO Access / U.S. Government Printing Office

Congressional Record

Law Printed & Codified

The Government Printing Office (GPO), as the source of official versions of federal law, first prints each piece of legislation as a "Slip Law" so that citizens can see and refer to new legislation quickly. At the end of each session, the legislation that has been passed is bound together in volumes called the United States Statutes at Large. Even though they're bound together, each law is listed individually in the order it was passed in the United States Statutes at Large.

Every six years the United States Code, the codification of general and permanent laws of the United States, is published. In the interim, supplements are published that account for legislation passed since the last revision or supplement. Unlike slip laws or the United States Statutes at Large, the United States Code rearranges all the laws in force into subject areas (a.k.a. "titles") - this is what it means to codify the law. However, that means that you no longer find each act as passed by Congress all in one spot like you would in the United States Statutes at Large unless that act happened to cover just one legal subject and those cases are rare! Instead, one act will be broken up into several pieces by legal subject and arranged in the United States Code accordingly.

Slip Laws (a.k.a. Acts)

Citation: P.L. 106-40 = Public Law of the 106th Congressional Session-Number 40

Session Laws (a.k.a. Acts, Statutes) - U.S. Statutes at Large

Citation: 113 Stat. 207 = Volume 113 Statutes at Large Page Number 207

Codified Laws - United States Code

Citation: 42 USCS 7412 = Title 42 United States Code Section 7412


Laws tell you what to do and regulations (also called "rules") tell you how to do it. For example, a law might say that packaged foods must describe their contents on the packaging. Its companion regulation would specify exactly which ingredients must be listed, in what order, the size of the label and so on.

By law, regulations are published in two steps.

  • The first step is to publish proposed rules and then allow for public comment in the Federal Register. A regulation may go through one or many drafts before it's final. Once it is final, it's published in the Federal Register once more before being codified.
  • Next, a regulation is codified, or arranged by subject, and published in the Code of Federal Regulations. Once codified, it remains in force until either its statutory authority changes and it's repealed or the agency decides to modify it.
  • For more information on both publications see the Federal register: What it is and How to use it.

You can find out whether a law has led to particular regulation or which law led to the regulation you're researching by using the same resource: the Parallel Table Of Authorities And Rules. The Parallel Table is found in the index to the Code of Federal Regulations. This table correlates laws with their regulations using U.S. Code citations, Statutes at Large citations and Public Law numbers (usually used in context of Slip Laws / Newly Enacted Legislation and included in the Statutes at Large).

Proposed Regulations - Federal Register

Citation: 51 FR 33948 = Volume 51 of the Federal Register, page 33948

  • Vol. 1 (1936) - present
    HeinOnline Federal Register
    In the Library: TC Law Library
  • Vol. 45 (1980) - present
    Proquest Congressional
  • Vol. 59 (1994) - present
    Federal Register of the United States / U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Last 3 years
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pubs (US Ref) AE 2.106:
  • Vol. 50, No.88, p. 19161 (May 7, 1985) - present
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) Cabinets 14-30 AE 2.106:
  • Vol. 48 (1983) - Vol. 50., No. 87, p. 19160 (May 6, 1985)
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) Cabinets 14-30 GS 4.107:
  • Vol. 36 (1972) - Vol. 47 (1982)
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (Reference) Microfilm 60
  • Vol. 1 (1936) - Vol. 36 (1971)
    In the Library: TC Wilson Library Gov Pub (US Microfiche) Cabinets 14-30 GS 4.107:

Codifed Regulations - Code of Federal Regulations

Citation: 40 CFR 761 = Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 761

Last Updated: Aug 17, 2021 9:57 AM