Legislative Information from the U.S. Congress & Utah Legislature: Researching legislation
Marriott Library Databases
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Congressional Research Service
The Congressional Research Service writes research reports at the request of members of Congress: They do not publish these reports for the public, but you can often find them on the Web.
Finding Government Sources for a Researched Argument
When you write an argument paper you may already have a certain point of view, but in order to present an effective argument you need to know what the other side thinks too.
Issues become political when people line up on different sides. For example, you may find arguments in the National Review (a conservative magazine) and The Nation (a liberal magazine) that say exactly opposite things. If you don't have any background it can be hard to decide which argument is more persuasive.
If you are just beginning to study your topic you may not be familiar with all the issues, so what you would really like to know is: Why are people arguing? What is the point of controversy? What data and information supports the arguments of each side?
- Use the CQ Researcher database to get an overview of the argument
- Use newspapers and news-magazines to find reporting and editorials about the topic.
- Use Thomas to read the text of a bill and find Congressional Record references and other reports related to the bill.
As you read look for information that will help you find more information about the legislation:
- Names of people or organizations that support or oppose the legislation
- References to specific bills, congressional hearings, committees or reports
- References to lawsuits
Congressional Hearings can be an invaluable source of pro/con arguments because stakeholders representing pro/con oppinions on proposed legislation are invited to testify before congressional committees. These witnesses usually present their arguments in a clear, convincing way because they are trying to persuade Congress to vote their way. Use the Lexis Nexis Congressional Universe database or GPO Access website to find a congressional hearing about your topic. You can use the Lexis Nexis Congressional Universe database to search hearings by witness affiliation. The Marriott Library has many of them in paper copies.
Paper Trail for the Legislative Process
A vastly simplified outline to get you started: *
- Someone in the U.S. Congress introduces a bill; maybe some sponsors or cosponsors sign on to show support (Thomas.loc.gov).
- The bill is sent to an appropriate committee; They write reports that become part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. They discuss it (Congressional Hearings); They may ask for cost estimates (CBO Cost Estimates) or ask the Congressional Research Service to gather information.
- Only about 10% of bills ever get out of committee. If that happens, congress may discuss it on the floor (Congressional Record) and eventually take a voice vote or a roll call vote (You only know who voted yea and nay if was a roll call vote).
- In order to become law, there must be both a house version (H.R.) and a Senate Version (S.) of the bill.
- If the bill passes (and the president doesn’t veto it) it becomes a Public Law.
- The new law is added to the U.S. Code, and federal regulatory agencies start work on how to implement it (the regulatory process is a whole other research topic since it is a function of the Executive Branch of government. Essentially, the Federal Register announces proposed regulations; the Code of Federal Regulations is where your find exisiting regulations).
*Italics show the titles of published series's.
For more information:
The U of U Quinney Law Library offers research guides, tutorial and librarian assistance for in-depth legal research.