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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. 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.

The Bill is Debated on the Floor of the House or Senate

Once the bill is reported out of committee, it wil be put on the calendar for debate on the floor by the entire chamber.  The record of all floor activity is published in the Congressional Record.  It includes verbatim transcripts as well as "Extensions of Remarks" which is material that a member of Congress wishes to add to the record outside of his or her allotted time to speak.

Members enjoy sweeping editorial powers over the content so what gets put in the Congressional Record may not match what was actually said on the floor.  This was common in the older volumes but with the advent of C-Span channel, it now happens rarely.

The Congressional Record is issued as a "Daily" edition and a "Bound" edition.  While the content is mostly the same it can differ if a member exercises their editorial power.  Also the pagination of the editions is very different.  When citing, be careful that you are using the correct page for the correct edition.

The Congressional Record is indexed by subject and name and also includes a "Daily Digest" which is a short summary of each day's activities.

  The first three links below bring you general sources for the Congressional Record . The final four links below provide access to different versions of the House Journal and Senate Journal.  These journals provide more detailed information about the action on the House floor.

Congressional Record

The Bill Passes and is Signed Into Law

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  similar bills will progress and pass each chamber but will end up with 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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