The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced. 
~Frank Zappa ~

It ain't no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don't break any. 
~Mae West ~


professor of the practice of law
university of Denver Sturm College of LaW

Debra Austin, JD, PhD

I'm Just a Bill - Schoolhouse Rock Video

Federal Legislation

Pattern of Statutory Publication

  • Slip Laws: Bills 
    • A pamphlet containing a single act.
    • It is separately published and designated by a Public Law number (P.L. 92-195). The first part of the number represents the number of the Congress which enacted the law and the second part indicates the chronological sequence of its enactment.
    • When the Statutes at Large are published, they supersede the slip law as authority.
  • Session Laws
    • Advance Session Laws: Commercially published monthly pamphlets containing statutes within a month or two of enactment.
    • West's United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) Text of statutes (since 1941) and select legislative history materials
    • Pamphlets cumulated at the end of the year into bound volumes that form a permanent commercial version of the Statutes at Large
  • Statutes at Large: The official permanent session law publication for federal laws.
    • Although slow to be published, the Statutes at Large supersede the slip laws upon publication.
    • Published in chronological order at the end of each annual session of Congress.
    • A Federal session law is cited by its Public Law Number and the volume and page in which it appears in the Statutes at Large. PL 96-195, 94 Stat 63
  • Codes or Statutory Compilations Federal laws that are arranged by subject.
    • United States Code began publication in 1926
    • Arranged in 50 subject titles, generally in alphabetical order
    • Citations indicate title, section and year of publication 16 U.S.C. 1311 (1982)
  • Annotated Codes
  • ​​Enactment of a Law - Learn about the Legislative Process

Electronic Sources for Federal Codes and Legislative Research Strategy 

Federal Legislation Research Strategy for Print Materials

  • General Index will lead you to the appropriate Code Title Index
  • Code Title Outline will lead to the appropriate Code Section
  • Updating
    • Shepard's United States Citations Shepard's on Lexis OR
    • KeyCite on Westlaw

Legislative History

  • The components of a Legislative History are the documents that contain the words expressing the intent of the members of Congress. Ancillary documents often provide assistance in doing a legislative history.
  • Preliminary Considerations
    • Hearings, Debates, or Reports from Prior Sessions may exist before the proposal is introduced as a bill
    • Presidential Recommendations: Presidential Message OR State of the Union Address - Appears in Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the House and Senate Journals
    • Memorandum from Executive Agency
  • Documents Relevant to Federal Legislative History
    • Congressional Bills
    • Committee Reports
    • Committee Hearings
    • Congressional Debates
    • Committee Prints
    • Presidential or Executive Agency Documents
  • Congressional Bills
    • Original Bill
      • Bill or Joint Resolution Assigned a H.R. or H.J. Res. Number in the House or a S. or S.J. Res. Number in the Senate
      • Number stays with bill until passed or the end of the Congress in which it was introduced
      • At the end of the 2 year term of Congress, pending bills lose their active status and must be reintroduced
    • Bill with Amendments
      • When amended, a bill is usually reprinted with the amending language, or the amendments are printed separately
      • Comparison of language of bill as introduced and its subsequent amendments, with the final bill as passed may reveal legislative intent since insertion and deletion of language may indicate a legislative choice
      • Bill as passed in originating body and introduced into other house
      • Bill as amended by second chamber
      • Bill as amended by conference committee of House and Senate
  • Committee Reports
    • Committee's obligation is to consider the bill and to decide whether or not to recommend passage
    • If passage is not recommended or if no action is taken during the Congress in which the bill was introduced, the bill "dies in committee." If the committee recommends passage, it does so in a written report
    • Reports of the committees of both houses to which the bill was assigned
      • Contains Revised text of the bill
      • Changes made in committee
      • Analysis of intent and content of proposed legislation
      • Rational behind committee's recommendation
      • When the bill is approved by the house in which it was introduced, it is sent to the other house, assigned to an appropriate committee where it undergoes the same process
      • Committee Reports are usually considered the most important documents in determining legislative intent because they reflect the understanding of those members of Congress most closely involved in studying the subject matter of the legislation.
  • Conference Committee Reports
    • When a bill is passed by both houses, but in different versions, a conference committee is convened, which consist of Representatives and Senators who are restricted to reconciling differing language in the respective versions of the bill.
    • Report of the conference committee of the House and Senate Recommendations for reconciling differences between bills Statement explaining effect of actions
  • Committee Hearings
    • Hearings held by the committees to which the bill was assigned Transcripts Testimony of experts or interested parties
    • Questions of committee members and answers of the witnesses Statements and exhibits submitted by interested parties
    • Text of the bill under consideration
    • Hearings from previous Congressional sessions concerning the subject matter of the bill being researched Hearings on related or similar bills that may have been held in prior Congresses
    • Hearings are not held on all legislation and not all hearings are published
  • Congressional Debates
    • Can occur any time during process, but most often occurs after bill is reported out of committee
    • Value of debate as evidence of legislative intent has been diminished due to contradictory nature of the statements
    • Calculated use of prepared speeches designed to manufacture evidence of legislative intent
    • Courts do give some weight to statements, especially if made by the bill's sponsor, whose stated intention is to clarify or explain the bill's purpose
    • Published in Congressional Record
  • Committee Prints
    • Special studies in specific subject areas for use by committees and their staffs
    • Presidential or Executive Agency Documents Not primary source for legislative intent
      • Explain President's or agency's intent of legislation
      • Includes Presidential Signing Statement or Veto Message
      • Incorporates rationale for Presidential action

Tools for Compiling a Federal Legislative History

Legislative Information Online

  • Westlaw Legislative History, Congressional Record, US Congressional Testimony, Legislative Histories compiled by law firm of Arnold & Porter
  • Lexis Legislative History, Congressional Record, US Congressional Testimony
  • Library Database: ProQuest Congressional
  • FDsys Federal Digital System: Advanced Search > Congressional Bills, Hearings, Reports, and Congressional Record
  • Senate
  • House of Representatives

Constitutional Research

Uniform Laws and Model Acts

  • National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws organized to promote uniformity among state statutes.
  • The National Conference designates an act as a Uniform Act when it has a reasonable possibility of ultimate enactment in a substantial number of jurisdictions. An act that does not have a reasonable possibility of uniform adoption is designated as a Model Act.
  • Uniform Laws and Model Acts

Colorado Legislation

Colorado Legislative History Checklist

  • Statutory Annotations: Check both Lexis and West in print or online
  • Citators: Shepard's on Lexis and KeyCite on Westlaw
  • Session Laws at Colorado General Assembly 
  • Bill sponsors
  • Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services The non-partisan, in-house counsel for the Colorado General Assembly and writes laws, produces statutes, reviews administrative rules, comments on initiated measures, and serves as a resource of legislative information for the public.
  • Colorado Legislative Council The Legislative Council, the non-partisan research arm of the Colorado General Assembly, provides staff support to legislative committees, responds to requests for research and constituent services; prepares fiscal notes and in-depth task force reports; provides revenue projections; and performs other centralized legislative support services.
  • Colorado State Archives: Tapes of Colorado Senate and House Debates and Floor Proceedings

Colorado Constitutional Research

  • Lexis Colorado Revised Statutes
  • West's Colorado Revised Statutes Annotated

Local Municipal Codes


For City or County Ordinances: Google Municipal Code (City)

Denver Municipal Code