Skip to Main Content

U.S. Laws & Regulations: Bills & Legislative History

A general Research Help guide for students studying the American legal and regulatory systems.

Bills & Amendments

A bill is a draft of a proposed law. Bills may originate in either the House of Representatives or in the Senate. They are designated either H.R. or S. and are numbered consecutively throughout a Congress. A bill retains the same number throughout the two sessions of a single Congress. If the bill has not passed by the end of a Congress, it has to be reintroduced in the next Congress, and it is assigned a new number at that time. When a bill is passed by both houses of Congress and is signed by the President, it becomes a public law.

A bill, from its introduction to its defeat or passage into law, may go through many steps in Congress. The documents that result from the bill's journey through each of these steps may become part of the legislative history of the bill. Knowing the legislative history of a bill can be a valuable aid in understanding or interpreting legislative intent. The documents that comprise a legislative history may include.

  • Bills and amendments
  • Congressional hearings
  • Reports of committees
  • Legislative debates
  • Secondary sources

Congressional Hearings

A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, Joint, or Special Committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law.

Reports of Committee's

Congressional committees file reports to the full chamber (House or Senate) on the legislation referred to them for analysis.