You are here: Home Legal Research Guides Federal Bill Tracking Research Guide

Federal Bill Tracking Research Guide

Updated Aug. 7, 2015.
Prepared by Ingrid Mattson, Law Librarianship Intern; updated by Cheryl Nyberg (2015) and Heather Joy (2013).

USFlag.GIF

The Daily Work of Congress

When Congress is in session, members of Congress introduce bills, hold committee meetings and hearings on those bills, and then vote on whether or not to enact the bills.

A bill is a proposed law. When a bill is introduced in Congress, it is assigned a bill number and is either designated as H.R. (House of Representatives) or S. (Senate), depending on the House of Congress in which the bill originates. For example, the Brewers Excise and Economic Relief (BEER) Act began as S. 1111.

All of the documents that are produced relating to that bill between the time it is introduced and the time it becomes a law (if it becomes a law) is called “legislative history.” So, when you track a federal bill (i.e., keep apprised of when it is introduced, when congressional members debate or discuss it, and when/if it will be enacted), you are tracking legislative history in the making.

Need more information on the legislative process in Congress? Check out this series of short videos on Congress.gov.


Why Current Information on Bills Matters

  1. You are interested in a particular topic (e.g., the environment, copyrights, taxes, animal welfare, firearms, immigration, national parks), and you would like to know if Congress is making any decisions about those areas.
  2. You have a particular congressperson you are interested in, and you would like to know what kind of work he or she is doing in Congress. (You can track bills by a specific congressperson.)
  3. You are writing a law review article or brief, and you rely on a statute that might be under dispute, in which case, the law may be changed by the time your brief or law review article is public.

top


Sources for Keeping Current

Information regarding the status of bills has essentially always existed—what has changed is how people find and access the information. Today, bill tracking has advanced dramatically, with lobbyists, lawyers, students, and researchers alike having access to the details of a bill’s status as well has being able to have those details and updates delivered to their email addresses as soon as they are available. While many resources noted below (e.g., the Congressional Record) can be found in print in the Gallagher Law Library, with bill tracking, the most current information (i.e., information you can find in online sources) is essential.

Some commercial sources -- including LegalTrac, LexisNexis Congressional, and the Readex Congressional Serial Set -- are restricted to current University of Washington faculty, students, and staff and on-site library users [UW Restricted]. Lexis Advance and WestlawNext are restricted to UW School of Law faculty, students, and staff and other subscribers. See Access to Bloomberg Law, Lexis Advance & WestlawNext for more information.

House of Representatives

The “Legislative Activity” box provides the schedule of hearings and committee meetings for the day, voting records for recently considered bills, and bill reports (including “Bills This Week” and “Bill Status”). Users can search by bill number or key word.

Senate website

Provides links to the schedule of hearings and committee meetings for the day. To track the status of a particular bill, select the link for “Active Legislation.” Bills are organized by popular name and subject. Though the tables that result include more information than simply the status of bills, a key at the bottom of the page identifies which bills did not pass, which are most currently being reviewed, and which affect currently enacted laws.

Congressional Record

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. Consists of four parts: the Daily Digest, the House section, the Senate section, and Extension of Remarks. The Daily Digest summarizes chamber actions (e.g., bills introduced), committee meetings, and joint meetings, while the House and Senate sections provide more lengthy details on any actions concerning bills.

The Congressional Record is searchable by performing an advanced search.

Congress.gov

One-stop shopping for finding essential bill tracking information. You can search the text of bills in the current Congress by number, word, or phrase. You can also view bills stage in the legislative process, bill sponsors, and votes. Floor activity for the previous legislative day as well as floor actions for the house on the current legislative day is also available.

GovTrack.us

A free website that aggregates data from official government websites and enables you to sort it and sign up for automated updates. The status and text of legislation typically delayed by approximately 24 hours.

GovTrack.us enables you to set up RSS feeds on bills by number and keyword, for recently active legislation, and for newly introduced bills.

OpenCongress.org

A free website maintained by the Participatory Politics Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit seeking to “help build public knowledge about politics and facilitate activism.” Because of its mission to increase civic engagement, the site enables you to parse changes made to a bill as it passes from one house to the other (e.g., it shows the varying word counts in the bill, indicates what percentage was changed at each stage, and lets you show the changes inline in the document).

When you click on a link for a current bill, you see a picture of the bill’s sponsor, a list of co-sponsors, associated committees, and “related issue areas.” Clicking on any of these terms allows you to see other related bills and additional data. For example, clicking on a particular congressperson identifies all the bills they have sponsored or co-sponsored, the number of those bills made into law, where they rank in terms of bill passage in relationship to their peers, who they most often vote with, and how often they vote with their party.

Twitter

Members of Congress tweet and often provide up-to-the-minute updates. A directory of members of Congress who tweet can be found here. A digest of sorts for congressional tweet trends can be found here.

@housefloor and @senatefloor tweet House and Senate floor votes. (Note: When tweeting about bills, use the following tags: #usbill and a hashtag with the bill number (e.g., #s1111) so that content aggregators can compile the tweets more efficiently.)

Scout

An alert system that covers Congress, regulations across the entire executive branch, and legislation in all 50 states. You can set up notifications for new things that match keyword searches. It also enables you to set up alerts regarding active bills.

LexisNexis
(Law school subscribers)

Enables you to set up alerts to track bills. Use the database BLT### (with the # signs being the number of the Congress you are interested in (e.g., BLT111)) to track a bill from introduction to enactment. At any time you can find out who additional co-sponsors are, whether amendments have been attached, and which committee is currently considering the bill.

Westlaw
(Law school subscribers)

Enables you to set up a variety of alerts to track bills. For example, the database US Bill Tracking (US-BILLTRK) tracks bills from their introduction throughout the legislative process and contains a legislative session status calendar, which includes action deadlines.

top


Useful Phone Numbers for Updates

The good old-fashioned telephone works if you need a quick update and cannot get to the Internet. The following phone numbers provide recorded, up-to-the-minute information on a variety of topics:

Daily calendar information: Proceedings on the floor of the chamber when in session

PartyHouseSenate
Dem. 202-225-7400 202-224-8541
Rep. 202-225-7430 202-224-8601

Status of Legislation: 202-225-1772

Provides status of any piece of legislation, bills introduced by any specific member of Congress, or bills on any given subject. Up to six items identified by bill number or three requiring word searches per call is permitted.

top


Bill Tracking Guides

 

Several guides provide helpful information on the process.

Peggy Garvin, The Government Domain: Tracking Congress 2.0

This article provides a brief overview of the numerous ways to follow what Congress is up to, from traditional methods detailed later in this research guide to the less conventional (e.g., Twitter and RSS feeds specifically linked to Congressional updates).

Carol D. Davis, Tracking Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Basic Sources (2005).

This resource, prepared by the Congressional Research Services, is a handy research guide on federal bill tracking as well as tracking federal regulations. It provides contact information (mailing addresses, websites and email addresses) for numerous services and agencies that provide legislative updates.

Paul Jenks, Monitoring Congress: A Revolution in Access

This article is ultimately an explanation of why a particular service should be purchased for those interested in bill tracking (e.g., lobbyists), but it nonetheless provides an interesting historical account of the tools available to researchers who were tracking federal bills before the advent of the internet.

top

Legislative History

Gallagher Law Library, Federal Legislative History

This guide includes links to free Internet sources and commercial sources, and it explains the variety of documents that could constitute "legislative history."

Georgetown Law Library, Legislative History Research Tutorial

This tutorial walks you through screen shots explaining the process by which a bill becomes a law. Finding tools and other research resources are provided to help you identify and track down the documents created as part of the legislative process.

Roy M. Mersky & Donald J. Dunn, Fundamentals of Legal Research 157–194 (9th ed. 2009)
KF240 .J3 2009 at Reference Area & Reference Office

Chapter 10 provides a useful explanation of which documents, exactly, comprise legislative history. Helpful tables (a) illustrate all of the documents that may be produced during the legislative process and identifies the authors (e.g., House or Senate) of the documents, and (b) show excerpts and screen shots from relevant finding tools to indicate what a user might expect to see when using the tools.

How Our Laws are Made, S. Doc. No. 105-14 (1998)

This 55-page Senate Document precisely details the steps through which a bill is introduced and becomes a law and it cites congressional members’ authority for each step in the process.

top

Connect with us:

© Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved University of Washington School of Law

4293 Memorial Way Northeast, Seattle, WA 98195



Login | Logout