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Tracing a Bill: Tracing a Bill

Tracing a Bill

This page will take you through the steps involved in the passage of  bill.  Each box below describes one of the steps.  For more information on the history of specific bill you should consult the resources available on the Indexes to Legislative History page of this guide. 

Congress meets for a two year period with each year of the Congress a session. Each Congress and session is numbered. For example, 1998 is the 105th Congress, 2nd session. A bill is only a draft of a law, it needs to be debated before Congress votes on it.  When a bill is introduced, it is not debated right away.  Instead it is sent to committee. The committee gathers as much information as possible on a bill by holding hearings and by writing or commissioning reports. The committee then votes on whether or not the bill will be debated by the entire House (or Senate). The House (or Senate) debates and votes on a bill; if it passes, it goes to the other chamber where the process is repeated. If it does not pass, the bill is killed. When a bill passes both the House and the Senate, it is sent to the President to be signed into law.

Each of the links below will bring you to a box describing these steps in the law making process. 

Bill is Introduced

A BILL IS INTRODUCED in the House or Senate. It is assigned a number (H.R. 000 or S. 000) and assigned to a committee.

House Bills and Senate Bills.

Congressional Committees

CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES a) hold hearings and b) write or commission reports on bill.

Committee Votes

COMMITTEE VOTES. If the committee votes "no" the bill is tabled indefinitely.  If it voted "yes" the bill is reported back onto the floor for debate by the entire chamber.

There are several ways to access the committee information.  The first three links below bring you general sources for the Congressional Record which is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session.  Within the Congressional Record sources you will find the text of entire speeches and floor discussions.

The final four links below provide access to different versions of the House Journal and Senate Journal.  These journals provide detailed information about the action on the House floor.

Congressional Record

Congressional Debate and Vote

BILL IS DEBATED AND VOTED ON.  If it doesn't pass, the bill is killed. If it does pass, it goes to the other chamber for passage. Often a bill will pass each chamber but there may be different versions.  These differences are ironed out by a Conference Committee composed of members from both chambers and the differences will be published in a CONFERENCE REPORT.  The conference reports are published in the Congressional Serial Set and will include "Conference Report" in the title.

After passage by both chambers, the BILL IS SIGNED INTO LAW by the President. The Bill is now called an Act (e.g. “Shipping Act of 1984”), which is its popular name, but is known officially by its Public Law number (e.g. P.L. 98-237, where P.L. means Public Law, 98 the 98th Congress, and 237 the 237th law passed that session).

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