Have just pounded through a fairly intense legislative history research assignment, I thought I’d share some tips. Here is my process for discovering the legislative history of a statutory provision.
Step 1: Pull up the statute in Lexis, Pike & Fischer, or the like. At the bottom is a summary of all the acts that created or amended that statute. Lexis, as the first item in the “history” section, has a mass of cites that I haven’t actually figured out how to decypher. I think it might indicate which part of the statute at issue was modified by each subsequent act, which would be quite useful if you are only interested in a portion of the statute. In any case, Lexis does break it down for you in the rest of the section. Note the public law numbers of each Act amending your statute.
Step 2: Use GovTrack to look up each public law retrieved in note 1. Probably Blindingly Obvious Tip - the first three numbers of the public law number are the Congress in which that law was passed. GovTrack has a lot of information on the law, but I prefer to …
Step 3: Click through to THOMAS. The “All Congressional Actions” link will take you to a description of the provision’s path through Congress. Committee reports as well as floor discussions are listed here, with direct links to what you need.
Typically conference reports are quite useful and provide the best summary of what the final bill is trying to accomplish. However, frequently the containing measure is one of those enormous appropriations or budget bills that incorporate other bills by reference. Conference reports on that kind of bill frequently have no descriptions of the provisions. So you will have to figure out what incorporated bill contains the change to your statute and then look up that statute and check if there were committee reports for that statute.
Floor discussions and the Congressional Research Service summary can be useful if you cannot recover committee reports.
That’s about it! Happy hunting.