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Zimmerman's Research Guide


Federal Bills

A Federal "bill" is the text of legislation being considered for passage in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Federal bills are officially published in the Congressional Record (see "Congressional Record").

In addition, Federal bills are posted free on Thomas from the 101st Congress (1989-90) and on FDsys from the 102nd Congress (1991-92). Federal bills are also available on CQ.com from the 104th Congress (1995-96), Lexis.com, Westlaw and Loislaw. For more, see Richard J. McKinney's Sources for the Text of Congressional Bills and Resolutions.

Lexis posts Federal bills on the day they are published by the GPO. If you have a bill number, you can pull a Federal bill from Lexis using the format: "1997 S 4" or "105 HR 15."

Amendments: Amendments are available on Thomas back to at least 1996 (99th Congress) and CQ back to 2001-2002 (107th Congress).

Bill Status Federal bill status is available on Congress.gov. To get more information about the status of a pending bill, see Open Congress.

For questions, call the House of Representatives' legislative information line at 202-226-1772 or the Senate (202-224-7860). Or visit the House or Senate websites.

Forecasts: Some services try to predict the likelihood that a bill would pass. These include the Congressional Bills Legislative Forecast - Current Congress database by State Net (available on Lexis (LEGIS;BLCAST)), and CQ's Bill Analysis.

Historical Bills: The text of older bills is available in back issues of the Congressional Record (see "Congressional Record").

Impact on U.S. Code ("Legislative Impact"): House and Senate bills generally state exactly where they would change the text of the U.S. Code, although seeing the impact can be difficult. To make this easier, CQ and Potomac Publishing both have "Legislative Impact" databases that display the relevant Code sections as they would be affected by pending bills.

Managers: In common Congressional parlance, the "manager" (also called a "bill manager" or "floor manager") is the Senator or Representative who controls the time for discussing a bill. There are generally two bill managers - the Chairman of the relevant committee (who will be from the majority party), and the most senior member of the relevant committee from the minority party. Bill managers are often assigned by a simple resolution of the Rules committee. The role of bill manager is sometimes delegated, most commonly to the Chair of the relevant subcommittee. Note 1: All the members of a Conference Committee are called "managers" and are listed as such on Conference Committee Reports. Note 2: The Senators or Representatives working to end a filibuser can also be called "managers" [see Charles Tiefter, Congressinal Practice and Procedure: A Reference, Research, and Legislative Guide, p. 707 (Greenwood Press, 1989)].

For questions and materials governing the role of managers, see the "Rules of Procedure" section of the "House of Representatives" and "United States Senate" entries.

Star Prints: If there is an error in the original text of an enrolled bill, an amended text called a "Star Print" will be published. The Star Print supersedes the original.

Tracking: For free tracking, try Congress.gov, GovTrack.us and/or Scout by the Sunlight Foundation. Federal bill tracking is also available from Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Government, and CQ.com. CQ.com will allow you to track their related editorial content along with the progress of the bill.

Vetoed Bills: A list of bills vetoed by the President for each Congressional session is available on Thomas back to the 93rd Congress, 1973-4 (choose the appropriate session and then, under the heading "Bills and Resolutions," choose "Vetoed Bills."

More Information: For a discussion of the Federal legislative process, see Fundamentals of Legal Research (West). For a visual representation of the legislative process, see the detailed map of How Our Laws Are Made.

See Also
Bill Status
Congressional Record
Federal Legislative History
Presidential Materials

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman