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Federal Legislative History: Bills (Ref. # 1)

More Information

In the 20th edition of The Bluebook, legislative materials are found in Rule 13.  A Bill is unenacted legislation. Often, you will need to include a parenthetical to indicate the date and stage of the bill especially if there are multiple versions of it in the same Congress.

Researching the legislative history of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the following information is found in the history of the statute:

Dec. 8, 2004, Pub.L. 108-447, Div. E, Title I, § 143(b), 118 Stat. 3071.

Using Pub. L. 108-447, locate the bill number using Westlaw, Lexis Advance, or Congressional (Proquest) (UH logins only). 

It is H.R. 4818, in the 108th Congress.  It passed on Dec. 8, 2004.  We would cite this using Rule 13.2(a) as:

Correct Citation:  H.R. 4818, 108th Cong. Div. E, Title I, § 143(b) (2004).

Bills

What is a Bill?

A bill is the most common form of legislation; it proposes to create a new act or to amend or repeal existing law. Bills may be either public or private. They have a prefix of "H." when introduced in the House, or "S." when introduced in the Senate, followed by a number assigned sequentially as bills are introduced during a two-year Congress. Most legislative proposals are in the form of bills, and may deal with either domestic or foreign issues. Authorizations (establishing federal programs and agencies) and appropriations (actually providing the money for these programs and agencies) are both in the form of bills.

A bill becomes law when passed with identical language by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, when passed over his veto, of if the President fails to sign it within 10 days after receiving it while Congress is in session.

There are eight types of legislation: bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions. Any of these may be introduced in either chamber. They are identified as follows:

  1. S.  - Bill originating in the Senate (goes through both chambers; requires Presidential signature to become law)
  2. S.R. - Simple Resolution of the Senate (goes through Senate only; does NOT require Presidential signature; does NOT have the force of law)
  3. S.J.Res. - Joint Resolution originating in the Senate (goes through both chambers; requires Presidential signature to become law)
  4. S. Con. Res. - Concurrent Resolution originating in the Senate (goes through both chambers; does NOT require Presidential signature; does NOT have the force of law)
  5. H.R. - Bill originating in the House (goes through both chambers; requires Presidential signature to become law)
  6. H.Res. - Simple Resolution of the House (goes through House only; does NOT require Presidential signature; does NOT have the force of law)
  7. H.J.Res. - Joint Resolution originating in the House (goes through both chambers; requires Presidential signature to become law)
  8. H.Con.Res. - Concurrent Resolution originating in the House (goes through both chambers; does NOT require Presidential signature; does NOT have the force of law)

Locating Legislative Documents

Bill Text

Reference number 1 in the flowchart.

How to Find the Bill Number

A public law is a legislative proposal agreed to in identical form by both Chambers. It is sometimes called a "slip law."  If you have the Public Law number you can find the bill number located in the margin at the beginning of the act.  Public laws are sequentially numbered and prefixed by the Congress in which the law was enacted (e.g. P.L. 113-5 is the fifth law of the 113th Congress). The current system for numbering public laws was adopted in 1957 (85th Congress).   

The Statutes at Large is a collection of all  the public laws and resolutions passed by a Congress. The public laws retain their P.L. numbers in the Statutes at Large but have a volume and page number to this publication. Since 1975 the Statutes At Large gives brief legislative history references on the final page to each U.S. public law, including bill numbers, committee report numbers and dates of floor consideration or passage. In addition, at the front of the print volume of the Statutes at Large is a list of Bills Enacted into Public Laws.  These are available electronically on Heinonline. (UH logins only.)

  • Laws passed during the 1st-56th Congress were identified using chapter numbers and the session of congress.
  • Laws passed during the 57th-84th Congress were also assigned public law numbers, and thus were identified using the chapter number/session of congress and the public law number. When searching for a public law number during this time, you can search by the Public Law Number or by the Chapter/Congress.

    Laws passed from the 85th Congress and forward have been identified using only public law numbers.

    Source:  Heinonline

Where can I find ...?

Bill Number from Public Law Number

I have the public law number (e.g. Pub. L. 86-3 is the 86th Congress or legislature, 3d law of that legislative session), how do I find the bill number?

  1. Go to Heinonline and find the U.S. Statutes at Large library.  [Note:  Heinonline is a proprietary resource available to UH Manoa students.]
  2. Find the year (right-hand column).
  3. Click on the linked volume number.
  4. Scroll down the list until you find the public law.
  5. The bill number is in the margin.

OR

  1. Go to Heinonline and find the U.S. Statutes at Large library.  [Note:  Heinonline is a proprietary resource available to UH Manoa students.]
  2. Find the year (right-hand column).
  3. Click on the linked volume number.
  4. Open the Table of Contents (it's one of the pages at the beginning of the volume)
  5. Find the table of List of Bills Enacted into Public Law - the Bill number is associated with the Public Law number.