Subject Guides

About Bills and Laws

A bill is a proposed law or a proposed amendment to an existing law, numbered consecutively for each Congress and chamber - H.R. 1; S. 1

Once the bill is passed by Congress and then either 1) signed by the President 2) vetoed by the President, but has the veto overridden by Congress or 3) passed by Congress, but is not acted on by the President for a specified by period of time - the bill becomes a Public Law. Public Laws are numbered by Congress, consecutively in the order they passed - P.L 105-322.

A legislative history of a Public Law can contain multiple bills, all which failed to pass the full Congress. A bill may be revised multiple times before becoming a law.

Sources for Bills

Sources for Laws


  • Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names (Bartle Ref KF 80 .S5)
    If you do not know the public law number, and you only know a law by its popular or common name, it may be difficult to locate. This book will help you determine its legal name and public law number.
  • CIS Annual Legislative Histories (UDC Ref JK 1001 .C79), 1984-2003
    This set contains the legislative histories of all laws for this time period, so if it missing in ProQuest Congressional, look for it here. This set will provide you will the citations for bills, but no the full-text. The Index provides a subject/title index as well. Useful for locating public law numbers.
  • U.S. Code Congressional & Administrative News (Bartle Ref K U5 U6), 1969-2001
    Use the tables in front to determine public law numbers, US Statues at Large reference, and more.


Search Tips: If all you need is a public law number, and you are certain you know the full name of your law, you can do a simple Internet search for "name of your public law" +PL and see if that brings up your Public Law number.

Also be aware that you may be looking for a much longer title that what a law is commonly known by. For example, "The Violence Against Women Act, is actually part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, PL 103-322. If you suspect his might be the case, use a source that will help you identify the formal name of the law, such as Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names.

Subject Librarian

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Dave Vose
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