Locating Bills and other Legislative Materials
This introduction to researching current Legislative materials online is arranged by document type. Each section includes a brief description of the material, and provides links to sources by dates of coverage. If you encounter any difficulties, or have further questions, please visit the Hillman Reference Desk, call the Desk at 412-648-3330, or go to Ask-A-Librarian Live online.
There are three major electronic legislative research sources which are included in this tutorial: LexisNexis Congressional, THOMAS, and GPO Access.
LexisNexis Congressional is considered to provide the world's most comprehensive access to U.S. legislative information, from Congressional Information Services. It is a subscription database, and may only be accessed through the Pitt Computer Network.
THOMAS is provided by the United States Library of Congress, free to the public. It is updated several times each day, and continues to grow in coverage.
GPO Access is a service of the U.S. Government Printing Office that provides free full-text electronic access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government. The information provided on this site is the official, published version and the information retrieved can be used without restriction, unless specifically noted. Search or browse information from the three branches of the Federal Government. Databases are updated based on their print equivalent and generally date back to 1994.
Bills are formally introduced legislation. Most legislative proposals are in the form of bills or amendments and are designated as H.R. (House of Representatives) or S. (Senate), depending on the House in which they originate, and are numbered consecutively in the order in which they are introduced during each Congress. Public bills deal with general questions and become Public Laws, or Acts, if approved by Congress and signed by the President. Private bills deal with individual matters such as claims against the Federal Government, immigration and naturalization cases, land titles, et cetera, and become private laws if approved and signed.* To see a graphic chart explaining the legislative process, click here.
- 1989 - Present: LexisNexis Congressional database.
- 1989 - Present: THOMAS (Library of Congress.)
- 1993 - Present: GPO Access (Government Printing Office.)
- Additional Bill information may be found in tracking reports and issues of the Congressional Record (see the sections below for details.)
Bill Tracking Reports follow a bill from introduction, through all steps in the legislative process, until it clears both the House and Senate (or expires.)
- 1989 - Present: Tracking Reports in LexisNexis Congressional are in the "Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws " section under "Bill Tracking", and may be searched by bill number under the "Get a Document" tab, or by keyword.
- 1973 - Present: Bill Summary & Status on THOMAS.
- 1983 - Present: Bill Histories on GPO Access.
Public Laws are bills or joint resolutions (other than for amendments to the Constitution) passed by both Houses of Congress and approved by the President. Bills and joint resolutions vetoed by the President, but overridden by the Congress also become public law.* New laws first appear in print as unbound "Slip Laws." After each Congressional session ends, the new laws are also bound in chronological order and issued as the Statutes at Large. Finally, new laws are included in the next revision of the full United States Code, about once every six years (NOTE: Some laws which appear in the Statutes at Large will not be included in the Code depending upon subject matter and permanence. )
- Find Public Laws, Statutes at Large, and the US Code at LexisNexis Congressional under the link for "Laws". Full text of laws available from 1988. Title & synopsis of Statutes at Large available from 1789. Full text of current US Code is searchable by keyword or Title. "Slip Laws" are included under the Statutes heading.
- Public & Private laws are available beginning with the 104th (1995) Congress from GPO Access upon their publication as "Slip Laws".
- Public Laws from the 93rd (1973) Congress forward are browsable by Bill Number on THOMAS.
- The US Code is also available from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the US House of Representatives, which prepares and publishes each official revision of the Code.
Legislative Histories are complete chronological records which cover the entire life-span of a law, from introduction as a bill, through all other stages, until it is passed. Introduction, referral to committee, amendments and other actions are sometimes reported in the Congressional Record. These entries may not always provide the actual text of the bill in its entirety, but they will provide all of the other information needed to locate the full text (such as dates, names, numbers, popular titles, etc.)
- 1969 - Present: LexisNexis provides Legislative Histories beginning with the 91st Congress, searchable by keyword, publication number, statute at large or enacted bill number.
- 1985 - Present: LexisNexis Congressional database also has the Congressional Record. Choose "Publications".
- 1989 - Present: THOMAS also provides access for the Congressional Record.
- 1994 - Present: Legislative Histories in Congressional Record from GPO Access.
Hearings and Debates are meetings or sessions of a committee of Congress, often open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or oversee a program.* Witness testimony is one type of material which may be included in published hearings.
- 1824 - Present: Hearings are available on LexisNexis Congressional (under the category "Congressional Publications ") and also on GPO Access from 1995.
Committee Prints are reports created as a result of studies by Congressional committees to support legislation or oversight functions.* Committee prints can be approved and issued by the committee, or issued by only a portion of the committee. Prints may contain draft legislation, situation reports, statistical information, historical information, or legislative analyses.
- 1830 - Present: LexisNexis Congressional.
- 1997 - Present: GPO Access.
- U.S. Congressional Serial Set (see section below for details.)
House Reports [H.Rept.] and Senate Reports [S.Rept.] are the official printed records of a committee’s actions, including its votes, recommendations, and views on a bill or question of public policy or its findings and conclusions based on oversight inquiry, investigation, or other study.*
- 1819 - Present: House and Senate Reports are available full-text from the LexisNexis Congressional database under "Congressional Publications".
- 1995 - Present: House and Senate Reports are also available on GPO Access and THOMAS.
- House and Senate Reports are republished in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set (see section below for details.)
- 1995 - Present: House and Senate Documents are available full-text from the LexisNexis Congressional database beginning with the 104th Congress, under "publications".
- House and Senate Documents are republished in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set (see section below for details.)
- 1817 - (ongoing) The READEX digital version of the Serial Set currently provides full-text access for the 15th-69th Congresses, 1817- July 3rd 1926.
- 1817 - 1969: The Serial Set is indexed by LexisNexis Congressional database under "Historical Indexes" and may be searched by keyword, subject term, bill number, date, etc., in order to determine if a given Report or Document may be contained in a particular edition. Other historical publications which are included in this index are Senate Executive Documents and Reports, Committee Prints, Published Hearings and Unpublished Hearings, some of which date back to the first Congress in 1789.
- 1987 - Present: GPO Access is also digitizing the Serial Set.
- See this related GPO page for detailed information regarding the Serial Set.
- ULS tutorial in research using the Serial Set is here.
Voting Records may be searched by subject, bill number, name of legislator, date and congressional session.
- 1985 - Present: LexisNexis Congressional has voting records from the 99th Congress to the present.
- 1994/1989 - Present: Voting actions are reported in the Congressional Record, available from GPO Access and THOMAS.
Presidential Materials include such items as statements published upon the signing or vetoing of legislation, the transcripts of speeches or press conferences, official proclamations and other texts.
- 1993 - Present: Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents on GPO Access.
- 1991 - 2003: Public Papers of the President on GPO Access.
*These definitions are provided by the U.S. Government Printing Office, and may be found online at:
Page created by Patricia L. Sharp (latest update 2 /2008)