Bills and Laws
|There is no collection of bills in the Blume Library, but the
Law Library has a microfiche collection of bills from 1980 to the present.
Congressional Universe. This database is available for on-campus use AT THE LAW LIBRARY ONLY.
In addition to Congressional Universe, there are these freely available internet sources of bills and information about them:
|Free Internet Sources of Bills|
|The most current free source of bills is the Government Printing Office's new Federal Digital System or FDSys. This link is to a page that allows browsing the Bills collection, or you can choose this collection to search from their Advanced Search Page. This database includes bills back to the 103rd
Congress (1993), and is updated daily. The search engine is much more powerful than the older GPO Access system, and offers a myriad of search options and ways to narrow search results.
The Bills collection includes all published versions of bills, and each version is identified with an abbreviation. A list of these abbreviations, along with other helpful information on types of legislation, can be found in this section of FDSys' help screens, as well as GPO's Congressional Bills: Glossary. Another helpful reference page is their listing of Years and Session Dates, which goes back to the 97th Congress (1981).
A very useful feature of that has recently migrated to the new FDSys is their History of Bills. It is taken from the Congressional Record index, and provides information on bills introduced in a particular session of Congress, such as referrals to committees, votes, etc. You can search the entire database, which includes information from 1983 to the present.
|Another source is the Library of Congress'
Thomas service, which does not post bills
as quickly, but does offer several other features, including more searching
points, that make it the best site to use for bill searching unless yesterday's
bills are needed. Depending on whether you want the text of a bill or simply need to know its status, choose either "Bill Text" or "Bill
Summary and Status," after first choosing the Congress number in which the bill was introduced. Thomas' FAQ is excellent and gives lots of good hints on searching for information on the site, including direct links to specific search and informational pages.
For Bill Summaries, Thomas goes back to the 93rd Congress (1973), although be aware that not all features and information are available for all years. Bill Texts are available back to the 101st Congress (1989). Another feature of the Thomas bill search page is an alphabetical list of "Popular and Short Titles" for bills which makes finding bills getting a lot of media attention easier to find.
Another source of information on current legislation is the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.'s Current Status of Selected Legislation (it is in PDF format).
The Senate provides this handy index to active legislation, showing at which stage in the process each measure currenly resides, what future action is predicted, and legislation's effects on programs and appropriations.
When there is disagreement between the House and Senate version of bills, the two groups meet in a conference to iron out the differences. The reports of these conferences are collected and made available by GPO. (This database so far only goes back to the 109th Congress.)
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Laws[More details on Legislative Research]
|Finding laws is less complex than looking for bills; once a law has been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, there is only one version of it, with only one Public Law number associated with it. This number is usually given in two parts, the first referring to the Congress number, the second to the sequential law number. For example, the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 is Public Law 106-541, the 541st law enacted in the 106th Congress.|
|In the Library|
Beginning in the fall of 2006, we stopped receiving individual laws in paper format in the Library. We still receive the bound Statutes at Large volumes (AE 2.111: ). These volumes collect the individual laws for each Congress and are received, usually, a year or two after the Congress has ended. The complete text of the Law is present, as well as a brief legislative history, which gives Congressional Record citations and House or Senate Report Numbers. Blume Library holdings of the Statutes date from 1964 to the present, but the Law Library has complete backfiles, dating from 1789.
Statute at Large citations follow this form: [volume no.] Stat. [page no.]. For example, the citation for the law which renamed Washington National Airport "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport" is 112 Stat. 3. Statutes at Large volumes have popular name and subject indexes, as well as numerical lists of laws, which make it easy to find a law even without the precise citation.
Every 5 years the U.S. Code is published. Beginning in the spring of 2008, the Blume Library will no longer receive the printed Code, but the Law Library keeps has not only the current edition but backfiles to 1976.
The Code summarizes the law in force. Summaries include references to the Statutes so that the full text of all laws can be found easily. The Code is divided into "Titles" which are 50 broad subject areas. Citations to the Code use this form: [title no.] USC [section no.]. For example, the section of the Code dealing with military promotions begins with Section 619 of Title 10: 10 USC 619. There is a detailed subject index and a Popular Names Index at the end of the full Code set, which help in finding the needed information without a citation. The Code is published one volume at a time. Supplements published in the interim between complete reissuances keep the set reasonably current. But the most current versions are electronic.
Laws on the Web
The most current free source of Laws is the Government Printing Office's new Federal Digital System or FDSys. This link is to a page that allows browsing the Bills collection, or you can choose this collection to search from their Advanced Search Page. This database includes Laws back to the 104th Congress (1995). The search engine is much more powerful than the older GPO Access system, and offers a myriad of search options and ways to narrow search results. In addition, FDSys has a much more comprehensive system of help screens, if you need definitions or information about abbreviations. Here is the section on Public Laws.
If you know the Public Law number you need, you can get laws back to the 93rd Congress (1973) on Thomas, but they do not have a keyword search capability for these laws.
There are free Internet sources for the U.S. Code, but they are not as current as the Congressional Universe version:
The Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D. C. offers a page of background and technical information on the U.S. Code that includes links to all known electronic sources for it (free and subscription). Highlights: PDF handouts of historical outlines, explanatory notes and lists and reference tables from the 2000 edition. Another useful source is maintained at Cornell's Legal Information Institute: a hypertext version of the Congressional Research Service's Annotated Constitution, with links to pertinent Supreme Court opinions, U.S. Code sections and Code of Federal Regulations citations.
For older laws, FDSys has begun to digitize the Statutes at Large. The Library of Congress' American Memory provides free digital access to Statutes for 1789-1875. The Law Library Microform Consortium is also digitizing older Statutes and they are available through the Blume Library's Online Catalog.
Another important aspect to understanding the full impact of any given law is the statement the President might give upon signing it. These statements can indicate how the executive branch intends to implement the law's provisions. These statements can be found in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (which the Library also has in paper form, in the Periodicals Collection, from 1965-2000). This online sources covers from 1993 to the present. To find a signing statement, include the phrase "Statement on Signing" with keywords from the law. For more information on signing statements, see this Justice Department memorandum.
The CQ Press Political Reference Suite (available on-campus and off-campus to St. Mary's students/faculty only) has a lot of information about the legislative process and politics in general, in text and data form.
Congressional Universe. This database is available for on-campus use AT THE LAW LIBRARY ONLY.
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Finding Bill and Law Numbers
In using either GPO Access or Thomas, or any other electronic bill index, the best way to find the right bill is by searching on its number. (Many bills are introduced with similar-sounding titles, especially in important or controversial areas. Also, bill titles are not always descriptive of their content.) There are several different types of Congressional action in addition to bills: Resolutions, Joint Resolutions and Concurrent Resolutions. The abbreviations used to cite these various documents can be difficult to decipher for someone unfamiliar with the system. Here are some citation examples:
A more complicated system of abbreviations is needed to identify different versions of bills, depending upon where they are in the legislative process. GPO Access provides this helpful Congressional Bills Glossary which goes in to great detail describing different types of bills and different bill version abbreviations.
For some explanations of the history and purpose of these different types of Congressional actions, consult the following websites:
Or, in the Blume Library's Reference Collection, consult the Glossary in any volume of CQ Almanac. (REF JK 1.C66). The Almanac, along with some other related sources, can be searched online in the CQ Press Political Reference Suite (available on-campus and off-campus to St. Mary's students/faculty only).
Having the bill or law number is not as vital to an efficient search as it used to be, since the electronic sources provide keyword searching options. But it can still be the easiest way to find the precise bill or law that you need. Fortunately, bill and law numbers are often (but not always) given in textbooks, magazine articles, newsletters from lobbying groups, and reference books. The following sources in the Blume Library regularly describe legislation and are good places to look for summaries and numbers:
Of course, the passage of a law is not the end of the story, as far as the law's application and enforcement is concerned. Regulations get promulgated to enforce the laws, and of course the third branch of government, the courts, may come into play. Providing an analysis of judicial system information is beyond the scope of this guide, but here are a couple of good portals: