Searching for and reading government documents can be overwhelming. This page contains some of the basics for navigating government documents.
1. Bills introduced in every Congress are given sequential numbers, e.g., H.R. 1, H.R. 2, S. 1, S. 2, etc.
2. It is also important to know the number of the Congress, e.g., 117th. See Dates of Sessions of the US Congress. The session of congress is often included in the bill number (e.g. 117 H.R. 110)
3. Once a bill becomes law, it gets a public law number in its first printing as a slip law. The public law number has two parts-the first part is the number of the Congress, and the second part indicates it was the nth law passed by that Congress, e.g., Public Law 111-148. Public law is often abbreviated PL in citations.
4. The public law is also cited to the Statutes at Large, a second printing of the slip laws, arranged chronologically in bound volumes. A Statutes at Large citation , e.g., 120 Stat. 648, includes the volume and page number on which a law can be found.
5. The public law finally becomes part of the United States Code. This is arranged by subject, so provisions in the public law can be codified in several different titles (subjects.)
The Timeline of Printing a Federal Law
Want to refresh or enhance your knowledge of the federal legislative process in the United States? See the resources listed on the pages below.
Each state has a slightly different way of conducting legislative business. You can read about New Jerseys here.
Useful sources for defining legal terms:
Act - a law or several laws that has been enacted and are being enforced. Same as a statute (see below)
Bill - a piece of legislation that introduces and drafts a proposal for potential enactment of a law
Committee Reports - analyses and recommendations regarding legislation. When the House and Senate cannot reconcile their different versions of a bill, a committee with members from both houses works out a compromise and issues a conference committee report.
Debate - sessions of the legislature in which various arguments for and against a bill are considered
Enacted Bill - a bill that has been passed by the legislature and will become a law
Hearing - "A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest." (Government Printing Office)
Law - a rule or a system of rules made by a legislative body
Legislative History - traces the development of a law from its original consideration to enactment of the statute. It cites a collection of documents that provide the background and actions that lead to the public law. These include bills, hearings, reports, debates, and presidential signing statements.
Ordinances - laws created by local legislatures, like a township, city, or village government.
Regulations - "A rule, adopted under authority granted by a statute, issued by a municipal, county, state, or federal agency. Although not laws, they have the force of law and often include penalties for violations. Regulations are not generally published in the books that contain state statutes or federal laws, but often must be obtained from the agency. To adopt a regulation, an agency usually drafts the rule, publishes it in governmental journals intended to give public notice, holds hearings, and then adopts a final, revised regulation.The process is best known to industries and groups concerned with the subject matter. Federal regulations are adopted under the procedure set out in the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA); states usually follow similar procedure." (Nolo's Free Dictionary Of Law Terms and Legal Definitions)
Signing Statements - released by the president upon signing a law
Slip Law - the first printing of a law after it is signed, contains a single sheets or pamphlets with the text of the law. These are labeled PL (public law)
Statute - often used interchangeably with Law, but is actually the same as an Act (see above)
The US Code - The final printing of a law (after its printing as slip law and in the Statutes at Large). The US Code is organized by subject.
The US Statutes at Large - Statutes at Large are the second printing of the slip laws, arranged chronologically in bound volumes.
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