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Zimmerman's Research Guide


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District of Columbia - Legislative Branch

The District of Columbia was governed by the United States Congress from the creation of the city through 1973. In 1974, Congress passed the Home Rule Act, which delegated legislative authority to the Council of the District of Columbia, a legislative body elected by the citizens of the District (although Congress can and occasionally still does make laws for D.C. as well). For an introduction to the D.C. Legislative process, see How a Bill Becomes a Law, posted by the Council.

The D.C. Code: Most D.C. laws are codified in the District of Columbia Code. The Code is published by LexisNexis (official, as of 2013) and by Thomson/West (official prior to 2013, although Lexis was the official Code even before that). Both editions are annotated.

Lexis posts a free, unannotated edition of the current DC Code.

You can search the annotated editions of the D.C. Code on Westlaw (DC-ST-ANN) and Lexis (DC;CODE). You can search unannotated editions on Westlaw (DC-ST) and Fastcase Loislaw.

Laws passed for D.C. by Congress may be codified in the District of Columbia Code and/or the United States Code.

    Historical D.C. Codes: You can retrieve D.C. Code sections as they existed in prior years back to 1990 on Westlaw (DC-STMANNxx) and Lexis (DC;DCxxxx), or Fastcase back to 2008. The DC Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050) has print editions of the DC Code from the 1950s at least into the 1980s. LLMC Digital has the District of Columbia Compiled States in force through the 50th Congress (1989) and the 1924 District of Columbia Code. For information about historical compilations of D.C. statutes, including earlier editions of the D.C. Code, see Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and/or The District of Columbia Practice Manual.

To locate a Code section that was recodified (e.g. in the major recodification of 2001), use the Parallel Reference Tables in the "Tables" volume at the end of a Lexis or Westlaw Code set.

Bills and Bill Status: Bills and bill status from the 13th "council period" (1999/2000) to the present are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia's Legislative Information System (LIMS). Bills are also available from Lexis from 2003 (LEGIS;DCTEXT) and Westlaw from 2005 (DC-BILLTXT). A notice stating each bill is introduced is published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below), but not the bill itself.

For questions and older bills, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Acts: An Act is a bill enacted by the D.C. government, but not yet approved by the U.S. Congress. The citation for an act is the letter "A," followed by the relevant Council Period and then the sequential number for the Period (e.g., A13-25 is the 25th Act passed in the 13th Council Period).

Permanent Acts are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below).

All Acts passed since 1999 are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia's Legislative Information Management System (Lims). They are also published in the Lexis District of Columbia Code: Advance Service, in print and on Lexis back to August 04, 1993 (DC;DCALS), as well as Thomson/West's District of Columbia Session Law Service, available in print and on Westlaw (DC-BILLTXT for the current year; DC-LEGIS-OLD from 1990 to the prior year).

For questions and older bills, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Emergency Acts: If two thirds of the D.C. City Council vote that an Act should be passed on an emergency basis, the Act does not have to follow the regular legislative process and can take effect without the approval of Congress. Emergency Acts can be found in the sources listed for permanent Acts. There is a list of Emergency Acts in the Tables volume of the District of Columbia Code.

Laws: A Law is a bill that has been enacted by the D.C. government and approved by the U.S. Congress. Laws are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below), the District of Columbia Code: Advance Service (in print or on Lexis from August 04, 1993 (DC;DCALS)) and the District of Columbia Session Law Service (available from Westlaw (DC-BILLTXT for the current year; DC-LEGIS-OLD from 1990 to the prior year)). They are available free (from 1999?) in the D.C. Legislative Information Management System (LIMS).

Note: A Law will not be published in the D.C. Register if it has not changed since it was published as a Bill. Instead, a notice will be published in the Register to announce the enactment, with a reference back to the issue with the Bill.

For questions and older laws, contact the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).

Codification: Laws may treated as statutes and codified in the District of Columbia Code, or they can be treated as regulations and codified in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR). If you can't tell from the language of the Law, check the relevant Codes by subject. If you have a citation to the District of Columbia Register, see the "District of Columbia Register Table" in the Tables volume of the District of Columbia Code. If that doesn't work, call the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050). Note: Some laws are not codified; you can find a list of uncodified laws in the Tables volume of the District of Columbia Code.

Effective Dates: Some D.C. laws include a specific effective date. If a law does not specify an effective date, the date should be listed (a) in the Legislative Information System (LIMS) and/or (b) the Table of Sections Affected in the Lexis and West Advance Legislative Services.

Resolutions: Resolutions are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below). They are available free online from the D.C. Legislative Information System (LIMS) back to the 13th council period (covering 1999 and 2000) and the DCR Online from 2003 to 2010.

Legislative History: There are three kinds of materials that might demonstrate the legislative intent behind a D.C. law: committee reports, recordings of hearings and legislative meeting transcripts. All of these are available from the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050). Committee reports back to at least 1999 are available through the status page of the Legislative Management Information System (they are working on going back all the way to Council Period 1). In addition, selected committee reports starting with the the 13th Council (1999-2000) are available on Westlaw (DC-LH).

Finally, the D.C. Superior Court has a collection of "legislative histories" going back to DC Law 1-1, These legislative histories contain miscellaneous materials related to each bill including reports and hearing transcripts, when available. If you don't have access to the Court, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia has over 500 legislative histories in PDF format, and you can request them by Law Number by writing to Laura Moorer at LMoorer@PDSDC.ORG.

District of Columbia Register: The District of Columbia Register is "the weekly official legal bulletin published by the DC government and is the temporary supplement to the DCMR." The Register includes new D.C. acts, laws, resolutions, regulations, notices and other primary legal materials. The Register began publication in 1954.

The Register is available free through DCR Online (2003 to 2010) and the D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register site (October 2009 to present). The Register is searchable on Lexis from 1998 (DC;DCRGST) Westlaw from 1999 (DC-ADR). Subscribers can get issues of the Register back to 1954 (Volume 1) in PDF format from the Digital Session Laws Collection on HeinOnline. Note: The Register was originally published only in print, but large-scale printing of the DCR was discontinued as of 2010.

More Information: For more information about D.C. legislative resources and legislative history see Georgetown Law Library's District of Columbia In-Depth; Chapter 1, "Finding the Law," in The District of Columbia Practice Manual; and/or the "District of Columbia" section of Legal Research in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia 2nd (Willim S. Hein & Co., 2000) by Leah F. Chanin or call the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).


See Also
State Bills and Bill Tracking
State Legislative History
State Statutes and Codes

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2014 Andrew Zimmerman