Legislative history refers to the intent of the legislature. The use of this history would be helpful in interpreting the statutes passed by legislatures.

If there is any ambiguity in the statute, then the courts will examine the legislative intent. Sometimes ambiguities arise because legislatures are trying to pass the legislation and allow the courts the opportunity to resolve the issue.

There are several things that comprise legislative history. These are documents that occur before the laws are enacted. The intent can be derived from:

  • Bills
  • amendments
  • committee reports
  • and other documents


  1. Bills
  2. Committee Reports
  3. Debates
  4. Hearings
Congressional bill

There are times when bills are fist introduced. If we look at the first draft, there are ways to tell what parts the legislature wanted to emphasize v. what was changed.

The history can be found on congress.gov.

Committee Reports

These are considered the most important aspect of understand the federal legislative history. The committee reports establish the rational for why the bill should become a law.

In addition to congress.gov, these reports can be found in U.S.C.C.A.N. and Westlaw.

Congressional Debates

These debates are found in the congressional record. This consists of the verbal arguments made by legislatures to persuade others to adopt the bill.

Congressional records, leading to the debates (by the bill sponsor), can be found on congress.gov.


After debates, the committees could ask to hear from experts to determine if this should be a law.

Recent hearings (1995-1996) can be found on govinfo.gov. Older hearings are on ProQuest Congressional Publications.

State Legislative Histories

These histories are harder to complete because there are not as many resources to access these documents. Below are a few of the applicable resources.

  • Bills and Amendments
  • Session laws
  • House and Senate Files
  • House and Senate Journals
  • Committee files at the Statehouse.

The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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