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Legislative Histories: U.S. and California: Home

How to find legislative histories for Federal and California laws

Legislative Explorer: Data visualization of bills

The Center for American Politics and Public Policy has released Legislative Explorer, a data-driven visualization program that shows "patterns and trends in Congressional lawmaking without advanced methodological training."

You can observe the progress on one bill, one Congressional session, or multiple years from 1973.

Background Info

Historical databases

American State Papers, 1789-1838
1st Congress, 1st Session through 25th Congress, 2nd Session

U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980
15th-74th Congress, 1st Session


How to find a topic or a published legislative history

Legislative histories are a compilation of all documents relating to a law, and are used to determine the intent of the law. Laws can be traced through bills, committee reports, committee prints, hearings, and Presidential messages. Committee reports will usually contain a reason for the passage of a bill.

1. First find a topic: 

If you have not selected a topic, do a quick search in the following SFSU databases & web sites. Remember the bill number & name, Public Law number, committees, and names of senators or representatives. 

a. Congressional Quarterly’s CQ Researcher.

CQ Researcher analyzes, and provide pros and cons on, controversial and timely issues. The Chronology section includes significant legislation on the issue.

b. Public Agenda Issue Guides

c. Issues


e. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports. CRS "works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress." See the website at for more information about the CRS.

In Spring 2014, the library cancelled the subscription to the GalleryWatch CRS Collection, which contained more than 25,000 CRS Reports dating from 1993.

Some CRS Reports can be found on the University of North Texas Digital Library.

2. Or browse these books in the Government Reference area on the third floor for a law that has passed:

a. Use the Index in the CIS Index Annual Legislative Histories of US Public Laws (1994-2008)

b. Check Congressional Quarterly Almanac to see what bills have passed in the year and the synopsis.

c. For California laws, use the Deerings General Index or the current Legislative Index.
(Hint: For California laws on Education, search Schools. Teachers. and Education in the Index.)

d. Look at the Legislative Summary for Senate or Assembly Committees for previous years.


3. Or search compiled legislative histories on your topic:

a. Check the Investigator Catalog for legislative histories on your topic.

Do a KEYWORD search on: legislative history AND __(your subject)_, or just legislative history.

You could also do a SUBJECT search on (topic) law and legislation. For instance, Educational law and legislation. You might click on Educational law and legislation United States, or Educational law and legislation United States History, which includes compilations on educational laws.

b. Check the CIS Index Annual Legislative Histories of US Public Laws (1984-2009, in the Government Publications area on the 3rd floor, west side of the big study area). This provides a concise summary of the law, reports, bills, debate, hearings, and documents related to the law.

c. Legislative Histories of Selected U.S. Laws on the Internet, part of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.'s Legislative Source Book.

d. U.S. Department of Justice Legislative Histories