This article was a section of a CLE I wrote and presented (Find it Fast and Free on the Web) in King of Prussia, PA in December 2015.
GOVERNMENT INTERNET RESOURCES: FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL
Statutes, Bills and Legislative History
Whether you are filing a brief, giving advice or drafting a complaint, the first thing that you must do is find the statute that will give you authorization to request whatever it is that you are seeking. The most trustworthy way of doing this is by getting the information from the source.
Federal Law and Legislative History
A statute is enacted legislation. With respect to the federal government, a statute is generally legislation that has been passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. What you hope to learn by finding the statute will inform where you should go to find it.
Previous Version / Search by Year
If you want the original legislation, or want to view a previous version of a statute to see how it was originally passed, then the Government Printing Office will likely be your best bet. This is most useful when you know specific details about the legislation that you want to find. If you know the year of enactment, you can search the Statutes at Large. Congress meets in two-year sessions, which are numbered. The current Congress is the 114th and began on January 6, 2015.
The United States Statutes at Large is legal and permanent evidence of all the laws enacted during a session of Congress (1 U.S.C. 112). It also contains concurrent resolutions, reorganization plans, proposed and ratified amendments to the Constitution, and proclamations by the President. It is published under the direction of the Office of the Federal Register through the Congressional Printing Management Division, U.S. Government Printing Office. In November of 2010, the Joint Committee on Printing approved a request by the GPO to work with the Library of Congress in order to digitize the Statutes at Large. Unfortunately, only about half of the Volumes have been published to date. The official Statutes at large are available on the internet at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.actioncollectionCode=STATUTE
The GPO provides links to Volumes 65 to 125 (1951-2011) of the Statutes at Large. If you want older versions, they can be found at the following unofficial links:
A. Volumes 1 to 18 (1789-1875) are available through the Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html
B. Volumes 1 to 64 (1789-1951) are available through Legis Works www.legisworks.org
C. Volumes 1 to 128 (1789 – 2013) are available through the Constitution Society: http://www.constitution.org/uslaw/sal/sal.htm
Current Version / Search by Citation
If you just need to know what the law currently says, then the easiest route is to visit one of the Meta-sites we discussed in section II. The following all contain reproductions of the Federal Code . As always, with internet sources, be sure to note when the information was last updated, so that you know that you have the most up-to-date information.
A. Legal Information Institute (LII) – www.law.cornell.edu
B. Justia – www.justia.com
C. FindLaw for legal professionals – lp.findlaw.com
D. Open Jurist – www.openjurist.org
E. Public Library of Law – www.plol.org
F. House of Representatives, Office of Law Revision Counsel – http://uscode.house.gov/
G. LegisLink provides links to Statutes at Large, Bills and Resolutions, Current Legislation and other resources – http://www.legislink.org/us
Federal Legislative History
There are three main bases for Legislative History: Committee/Conference Reports; Floor Speeches/Debates; Presidential Signing Statements.
Before it reaches the floor for debate and voting, a bill is assigned to the committee responsible for the relevant subject matter. A committee report provides a detailed overview of the legislation. It can include definitions, findings of fact, justification for action by Congress as well as cost estimates.
A Conference Report is final version of a bill that is negotiated between the House of Representatives and the Senate through a conference committee. This occurs when bills are changed or amended through the debate process in each house. The same bill must be passed by each house before it can go to the President.
A. The GPO provides Committee Reports from the 104th Congress to the present (1995-2015): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CRPT
B. Congress also provides links to Committee Reports since 1995; use the boxes on the left hand side to narrow your search by Chamber, Session or Committee. You can also check the box to find only the Conference Reports: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-reports
C. Older Committee and Conference Reports (23rd through 64th Congress; 1833- 1915) are in the U.S. Serial Set, located at: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsslink.html
D. Documents from 1789-1838 are contained in the American State Papers: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsplink.html
At a meeting in April, the Government Publishing Office announced its collaboration with the Library of Congress to digitize all bound volumes of the Congressional Record from 1873-1998. The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. To find the floor debates on particular legislation, important if you need to argue or learn about what the purpose of a bill was, you can access the following websites:
A. The GPO provides the Congressional Record from 1994-2015 http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CREC
B. At the website for the U.S. Congress, you can find the Congressional Record, including Daily Digests, from the 104th Congress (1995) through the present. https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record
C. Itunes – the Congressional Record has an App for IPad, IPhone and Ipod Touch that is free to download and contains resources dating back to 1995. These are retrievable via searchable PDFs. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-congressional-record/id492077075
For historical debates and proceedings, the Library of Congress has digitized the information at its Century of Lawmaking website (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html). Specific addresses for the journals of historical debates are as follows:
A. Annals of Congress; 1st through 18th Congress, 1st Session (1789 – 1824): http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwaclink.html
B. Register of Debates; 18th Congress, 2nd Session through 25th Congress, 1st Session (1824-1837) : http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwrdlink.html
C. Congressional Globe; 23rd through 42nd Congress (1833-1873): http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwcglink.html
D. Congressional Record: 43 and 44th Congress (1873-1877): http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwcrlink.html
A Presidential signing statement is a written pronouncement issued by the President upon the signing of a bill into law. Signing statements have been used since the early 19th century by Presidents to comment on the law being signed. Such comments can include giving the President’s interpretation of the meaning of the law’s language; asserting objections to certain provisions of the law on constitutional grounds; and stating the President’s intent regarding how the President intends to execute, or carry out, the law, including giving guidance to executive branch personnel. However, a signing statement technically has no legal effect other than possible persuasive authority.
A. Signing statements since 2001 (Bush and Obama): http://www.coherentbabble.com/listLAWSall.htm
B. The GPO provides links to all Presidential documents since 1993. If you know when the legislation was signed, you can search by year to find the signing statement: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CPD
State Law and Legislative History
Pennsylvania was the last state to begin consolidation of its statutes. Up to 1970, the chronological laws were compiled by Purdon. In 1970, the Legislature enacted legislation which called for the codification of statutory law. Note – though the Pennsylvania Statutes are being codified – these are not found in the Pennsylvania Code. Unlike the U.S. Code, the Pennsylvania Code contains agency rules and regulations and will be discussed in the next section. This entails repealing obsolete laws, re-enacting laws as new legislation and grouping similar legislation together. This process has not been completed; so we are stuck with the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (Pa.C.S.) and the older legislation, the Unconsolidated Statutes (P.S.). The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated (Pa.C.S.A.) are published by West and contain annotations. The website of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is the best free location to find the text of the Consolidated Statutes. The website allows you to search by keyword, Act Name or Year or by topic (in the Consolidated Statutes).
A. Consolidated Statutes: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/Public/cons_index.cfm
B. Unconsolidated Statutes: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/Public/ucons_index.cfm
C. To find information on bills that were proposed (that may or may not have been passed) you can also use the General Assembly website. Here you can search by Bill Number, Amendment Number, Date, Keyword, Sponsor, Committee or Topic. You can also sign up for email alerts to track particular legislation. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/bills/
Pennsylvania Legislative History
Pennsylvania Legislative Committee Hearings are not published. So the only real basis for legislative history is found by using the debates and comments made on the floor. These are also found at the Pennsylvania General Assembly Website.
A. Senate Journals (1989 to Present): http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/sj/sj.cfm
B. House Journals (1961 to Present): http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/hj/hj.cfm
New Jersey Statutes, bills, public hearing transcripts and other information.
You can access the New Jersey Legislature website. On the left hand side, you will find easy links to Statutes, Rules and transcripts; as well as information on districts, committees and other information. http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/Default.asp
New Jersey Legislative History
Legislative history can be found at the New Jersey State Library website. You can find information on legislation from 1970 through 2013 and provides a synopsis of the sponsors, changes and votes on legislation. http://repo.njstatelib.org/