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 passed by the Council of the District of Columbia are codified in the District of Columbia Code. Laws passed for D.C. by Congress may be codified in the District of Columbia Code and/or the United States Code.
The D.C. 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. Unannotated editions are also available on You can search unannotated editions on Westlaw (DC-ST) Fastcase, Bloomberg Law and Loislaw.
You can search the annotated editions of the D.C. Code on Westlaw (DC-ST-ANN) and Lexis (DC;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 bills status from the 20th Council Period (2013/2014) to current are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia's current Legislative Information System (LIMS). This is not intuitive. You have to change the pull-down menu from "All Legislation" to "Bill," run your search, then click on "Introduction" for the bill text or the name of the bill for the bill status and other documents.
Bills and bill status from the 8th Council Period (1989/1990) to the 19th (2011/2012) are posted in the Council of the District of Columbia's historical 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).
Acts passed from the 20th Council Period (2013/2014) to current are posted in the current Legislative Information System(LIMS). All Acts passed during the 19th Council Period (2011/2012) and prior are posted on the Council of the District of Columbia's historical Legislative Information Management System (LIMS), which covers the 8th Council Period (1989/1990) to the 19th (2011/2012).
D.C. acts are also published in print in the Lexis District of Columbia Code: Advance Service, 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 electronically on and Westlaw (DC-BILLTXT for the current year; DC-LEGIS-OLD from 1990 to the prior year). Acts are avaialble in Bloomberg Law from May 1999 to current.
Permanent Acts are published in the District of Columbia Register (discussed below).
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 online from
OpenLIMS from Council Period 1 to the present. You can also get them in regular LIMS, with different locations for recent (2013/2014 and forward) and older laws (prior to 2013).
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 current (2013/2014 and forward) or historic Legislative Information System (LIMS) 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), though there are different ways of getting them.
Committee reports are available free on the "Bill History" pages of the current DC Legislative Information System starting with the 8th Council period (1989-1990) and on the main page for each bill in the historic Legislative Information System (LIMS). In addition, selected committee reports starting with the the 13th Council (1999-2000) are available on Westlaw (DC-LH).
Videos of hearings are available back to 2010 on the
Council Hearings Archive page.
The 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; they may be the same thing as the bill file (discussed below), but I have never compared them. 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 up to Council Period 16, and you can request them by Law Number by writing to Laura Moorer at LMoorer@PDSDC.ORG.
Finally, if you want to see the original bill file, you have to go to the Legislative Services office and make copies yourself (or send a service to do it for you). Old bill files are on microfiche, and more recent ones are still on paper. Send an email to Kevin Smith at ksmith@DCCOUNCIL.US to arrange a time to see the bill file.
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 the D.C. Municipal Regulations and D.C. Register site (October 2003 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 (William S. Hein & Co., 2000) by Leah F. Chanin or call the D.C. Legislative Services Division (202-724-8050).