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ResearchRoundup - Online Bill Tracking Resources

By Kathy Biehl, Published on August 15, 2000

Attorney and author Kathy Biehl practiced law privately in Houston, Texas for 18½ years before relocating to New York City in 1998. She has taught legal research and writing at the University of Houston Law Center and business law at Rice University. A member of the State Bar of Texas, she earned a B.A. with highest honors from Southern Methodist University and a J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, where she was a member of Texas Law Review and Order of the Coif. She is co-author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research (Scarecrow Press, Nov. 2000), with Tara Calishain.

Each edition of Research Roundup will pull together related, practical online services that take outstanding advantage of the convenience and efficiency of the Internet. 

Portions of this column are excerpted from the Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research (Tara Calishain, co-author), to be published this fall by Scarecrow Press.

 

ResearchRoundUp Archives

RoundUp#1

RoundUp#2

Not long ago, tracking a bill in progress was the domain of lobbyists and specialists. The advent of legislature Websites has put bill tracking into the hands of anyone who’s interested.

For the federal government and every state, a trip to the legislature’s home page will provide the history, status, and at least a synopsis of an introduced bill. Almost all of these sites also provide the full text of bills, as well as committee and hearing schedules and other tools for keeping an eye on the development of pending legislation. Most of these sites are updated nightly. A few states offer subscriptions to a tracking service (such as Lobbyist-in-a-Box), which will follow particular bills or topics and issue e-mail alerts when activity occurs. In a couple of states, customizable bill-tracking features are available at no charge.

FEDERAL / STATE

Federal

THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet

The Library of Congress’s server THOMAS is the premier online source of federal legislative history. A query box directly under the title allows searching the text of :bills in the current Congress by number, word, or phrase. Five other avenues of approach appear under the Legislation heading.

Bill Summary and Status allows browsing bills and amendments by public and private laws, vetoed bills, and sponsors. Search options include keyword, subject, bill or amendment number, stage in legislative process, date, sponsor, or committee. The database under this heading goes back to the 93rd Congress, which was in session from 1973-74.

Major Legislation highlights significant bills and amendments from 1995 on, which are browsable by topic, number, popular title, and by bills that were enacted, vetoed bills, and public laws. Search options include keyword/phrase, number, topic, stage in the legislative process, sponsors, and committee.

Public Laws by Law Number indexes the legislation of the 93rd Congress through the present.

Roll Call Votes charts the votes of each house from the 101st Congress on. For the Senate, this feature begins with the first session (1989), while the House tallies start with the second session (1990).

Under the Congressional Record heading are links to the full text of the daily editions for the current and two prior Congresses. Routes for accessing the issues are many. You may search by keyword or congressperson’s name. You may browse the issues by date and section or via the publication’s index, which is arranged by member name and topic. You may also browse a topical index, which you enter by typing a keyword. To dragnet for discussions of anti-trust policies, for example, you would type "anti-trust" in the query box, click on that phrase when it comes up in the index, then scroll through a list of links to Congressional Record articles in which the word appears.

The Committee Information heading links to a database with the full text of all committee reports of the current and previous Congresses that were published by the Government Printing Office, searchable by keyword, report and bill number, and committee, and browsable sequentially. Other links under this heading jump to home pages of current congressional committees, hearings schedules of committees in both houses, and House committee hearing transcripts.

Tabs at the top of the page lead to the current Senate schedule, as well as to what’s happening on the floor of the House of Representatives today and this week.

Major Legislation highlights significant bills and amendments from 1995 on, which are browsable by topic, number, popular title, and by bills that were enacted, vetoed bills, and public laws. Search options include keyword/phrase, number, topic, stage in the legislative process, sponsors, and committee.

House of Representatives

The House site has up-to-the-day status reports on bills and floor actions, floor and committee schedules, and Websites of members and committees.

Senate

The Senate offers much the same calendar, status, and contact information as the House page. The Senate page, however, allows keyword searches of its database.

STATE

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / D.C. / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey/ New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming

Alabama Legislative Information System: The Alabama Legislature lists enrolled acts; posts bills, enrolled acts, and resolutions by session; and offers two search engines to retrieve documents from the latest legislative session.

Alaska State Legislature Textual InfobasesThe Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) offers the spectrum of information, including house and senate calendars, public hearing schedules, bills in committee, and bill summaries organized by subject. Type a bill root into the search engine to retrieve its status and history. BASIS offers a Bill Tracking Management Facility, which requires an account.

Arizona Legislative Information System OnlineSearch current statute and bills by keyword or browse floor calendars, committee agendas, and session laws since 1995. Daily Posting Sheets are available for the 1st Regular Session of the 44th Legislature, while Blue Sheets are online for the house and senate (currently from March 2 to June 20, 2000).

Arkansas General AssemblyThe bill number is necessary to view its full text or status, or to download it in Word, WordPerfect, or Adobe Acrobat Reader format. There are search engines to retrieve bills by keyword or by primary sponsor; it’s also possible to view bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, or memorial resolutions by chamber.

Official California Legislative InformationBills, resolutions, and constitutional amendments are available here. The site posts daily updates of assembly and senate bills in progress, organized by bill number. Bills are also listed in the index. The search engine locates bills by number or keyword and limits searches by session and house of origin. The day’s calendar for each chamber is online.

Colorado General Assembly:  Each chamber posts the text, fiscal notes, and committee votes of bills and resolutions, which you do not read online but download in WordPerfect or Adobe Acrobat Reader format (depending on the file). Bills are listed by number under Status. Calendars and journals are also available. Take the link to 2000 Legislative Session Information to search by bill number.

Connecticut General AssemblyThe General Assembly has two pages, with vary slightly in scope of information. If you access the page through FindLaw’s state index or ConneCT (Connecticut’s home page) and use Netscape or an old version of Internet Explorer, you will be directed to http://www.cga.state.ct.us/default.htm. Here the General Assembly offers a full text search engine that targets a spectrum of some 20 legislative databases, including amendment, bill analyses, calendars, journals, and session transcripts. The Bill Information Retrieval page allows searching for bills, resolutions, and acts by number and keyword; the keyword search option covers the same databases as the full text engine.

If you use Internet Explorer 5, you will be directed to the URL in the heading or this section, which archives legislative information back to 1988. (When I tried to access this site through Netscape, a message at the top of the site indicated that it could also be read in IE 4.0 or above with Active Scripting enabled.) Users may personalize this page’s settings to display customized categories of information. The Bill Information utility here retrieves bills by title keyword; last action; introducing party, committee, or assemblyperson; or range of bill numbers. The Search Current Legislation option compares keywords against up to 15 categories of documents. There is also a full text search engine with the same parameters as on the other version of the page, but all it currently offers for 2000 is committee hearings.

On either General Assembly home page, legislative information includes the assembly’s schedule and a chart of legislative deadlines for each committee. Calendars, journals, lists of bills, and floor transcripts: are available for both houses, which offer streaming video of chamber proceedings, which use Windows Media Player. The house of representatives’ go lists are also available.

Delaware Legislative Information SystemSearch by bill number or key word. The page offers each house’s agenda, meeting notices, and ready list, as well as the house journal and roll call. Some committee information is available.

D.C. CouncilBills are listed by number here. The council schedule is also posted.

State of Florida Legislature"Online Sunshine," the legislature’s official guide, posts daily calendars and journals, not to mention summaries of legislation, searchable indexes of bills, and sponsoring legislators, for both the house and senate.

Georgia LegislatureIndexes list bills that were introduced, passed, signed or vetoed in the 1999-2000 session. The search engine retrieves bills by number, keyword, code section, date of introduction, author, committee, or sponsor. The weekly committee meeting schedule is available for each house. GeorgiaNet subscribers may use the Lobbyist-in-a-Box feature, which monitors designated bills and sends status reports.

Hawaii State LegislatureYou may retrieve bills, resolutions, and committee reports by number or keyword, or browse an index of the same documents. Indexes are also available of all the session’s acts, as well as of bills that were introduced or passed (by house), enrolled to the governor, or vetoed. Orders of the day, referral sheets, action sheets, hearing notices, and bill packages are online, too.

Idaho LegislatureFind bills by running a keyword search, browsing the legislative topic index, or browsing the "Mini-Data" current status list. The page has indexes of bills signed into law (including effective dates and chapter numbers) or vetoed, as well as committee and task force minutes.

Illinois General AssemblyBrowse bills or resolutions by chamber and number, or search by bill number. Schedules are online for the senate and the house, which also posts journals, roll calls, and transcripts of floor debates.

Indiana General AssemblySearch by bill number or keyword, or browse lists of enrolled acts, bills approved over the governor’s veto, bills by legislator, resolutions, and fiscal impact statements. Resources include calendars and journals for each house, committee schedules, floor motions, and deadlines for legislation. The calendar is also available for the interim (when the assembly has adjourned). A BillWatch service is available to Access Indiana Information Network subscribers.

Iowa General AssemblySession information includes calendars, journals, and indexes of bills, resolutions, amendments and committee reports. If you know a document’s file number, you can pull it up with a search engine. A bill tracking system is available on written request; RealAudio broadcasts of floor debates are available when the assembly is in session. The interim calendar is online.

Kansas Legislative ServicesYou can find the full text of bills by number or keyword or search for them by subject. There’s also an index of vetoed bills. The site has calendars, journals, and agendas for each house. When the legislature is in session, RealPlayer broadcasts are available of floor debates. Premium subscribers to the Information Network of Kansas have access to session laws, bill packets, and a bill-tracking service called Lobbyist-in-a-Box.

Kentucky Legislature Legislation & Legislative RecordLook under Front Page Information for each house to browse lists (by bill number) of bills with two readings, laid on the clerk’s desk, laid on the table, or subject to proceedings. Other lists indicate bills by committee; in various stages of being passed, enrolled, or vetoed; or pre-filed for the 2000 session. The Bill Status Information link organizes data by house and bill number. A search engine is available for the current legislative session; so is the weekly legislative calendar and interim meeting schedule.

Louisiana State LegislatureThe legislature has four pop-up query boxes for each session. Retrieve instruments by number, legislator name, number range, or keyword search. The site also offers a list of vetoed bills, charts of correspondences between bill and act numbers, a subject index, calendars, journals, and archived broadcasts of committee meetings or house proceedings.

Maine LegislatureThe session information page (http://janus.state.me.us/legis/session/) provides a browsable list of bill titles and engines to search for bill text (by number or keyword) or status (by LD, LR, or paper number; subject; or committee, sponsor, or cosponsor name). Schedules are posted for public hearings and work sessions for committees, the house, and the senate. Journals and calendars are online for both chambers, as are bill summaries, fiscal bill summaries, and lists of bills carried over from the previous session or associated with agencies.

Maryland General AssemblyThere is a search engine for retrieving information and status by bill number, but its results will contain a synopsis and not the full text. To retrieve the full text, take the Search link and check amendments, bill text, chapters, or fiscal notes. For the status (but not the text) of a bill or resolution, scan the indexes, which organize pending legislation by sponsor, subject, file code, or statute. Subscriptions are available for profile indexes of bills pertaining to designated interests and for up-to-the-minute updates. The site posts house and senate agendas, as well as committee and budget hearing schedules. Floor proceedings are broadcast live in RealAudio; previous broadcasts are archived.

The 181st General Court of MassachusettsThis site allows retrieval of senate bills by number or keyword. The same options are available for searching bill history. There are lists of numbered matters by chamber (for which only a brief synopsis is given), as well as house, senate, and joint calendars and committee hearing schedules.

Michigan LegislatureThe full text search engine covers all documents in the current legislative session. Other engines are available for specialized searches. One retrieves a bill, resolution, or sponsor by bill number or resolution letter; another retrieves pending legislation by categories of subjects. There are also browsable indexes of bills before each chamber, by number. Each of these options brings up the full text of the bill or resolution. The browsable index entries contain each version of the bill (as introduced, passed by the house, passed by the senate, and enrolled) and the history of action that has been taken on it. The site also posts calendars and session schedules for each house, journals, and tables of public acts and compiled laws.

Minnesota State LegislatureMinnesota allows multiple routes for retrieving bills, such as bill or revisor number, keywords in the short or long description, authors, or statutory citation. Other resources include journals, committee schedules, and a search engine for completed fiscal notes.

Mississippi LegislatureThe legislative calendar contains the timetable for processing legislation in the current session. The bill status system indexes bills (in full text) by committee and author. The legislative calendar and committee schedules are available for each house. Daily action reports are accessible through a hyperlinked calendar. Bill status system files come in HTML or Adobe Acrobat formats.

Missouri General AssemblyThe bill tracking page supports searching for bills by number, sponsor or keyword. The page also indexes bills by subject. (The same retrieval capabilities are available on both the house and the senate home pages as well.) When the legislature is in session, the site broadcasts floor debate in RealAudio. For hearing schedules and journals, head to either the senate or the house of representatives’ site; each site posts this information for both chambers. Each house posts bill activity reports and statements of the day’s activity.

Montana Legislative BranchChoose the session in which you are interested. (The current options are 1999, 2000, and 2001.) Agendas, journals, and floor actions are posted for each house. Search for bill information by bill or draft number, subject, or primary sponsor. There is also an engine for keyword searching the text of bills, and another for committee information and hearing schedules. The LAWS Preference List system permits tracking the status of a group of bills. It is a pilot project that requires submitting a written request to receive log-on information. It was not available for the May 2000 special session; the link to it is not working on the 2001 session page, so it may or may not be available when that session starts.

Nebraska UnicameralThe session calendar and legislative journal are available as Adobe Acrobat documents. Bills and resolutions are retrievable by number or keyword. The New Bills link leads to one-line descriptions of new bills introduced, by date. The site posts lists of designated priority bills and offers live streaming video of Unicameral activity (using RealPlayer). Past broadcasts are archived by date.

Nevada State LegislatureBills are listed by sponsor or chamber; resolutions are by chamber and by type (resolutions, concurrent resolutions, or joint resolutions). There are also lists of bills that were signed, vetoed, or delivered to the Secretary of State, as well as those that are exempt from certain standing rules. Legislation is listed by effective date. You can run keyword searches of bills (full text), committee minutes, and session journals. The site broadcasts committee meetings by RealAudio.

New Hampshire General CourtThe bill status query page retrieves information by bill or LSR number or keyword in the title. Take the advanced option to search by committee, session day, status in a chamber, or sponsor. You can also retrieve a list of chaptered bills or bills introduced into each house. Calendars and journals are available for both the senate and the house of representatives.

New Jersey State LegislatureYou may obtain the full text of bills by number, sponsor, subject, keyword, or committee. There is a thesaurus for determining the subject heading that would cover a particular type of bill. The current legislative calendar is available, as are transcriptions of public hearings. 

New Mexico LegislatureThe Bill Finder searches for bills, capital requests, memorials, or resolutions by number or keyword. The house of representatives and the senate each posts committee schedules and floor calendars. A list of floor votes is under News and Issues.

New York State Assembly Legislative Information SystemThe search engine uses the bill number or keywords and retrieves a summary (not the full text) with a list of actions, when available. Calendars of bills and public hearings are posted. When the assembly is in session, the page broadcasts proceedings in RealAudio.

North Carolina General AssemblyUse the number to look up introduced or chaptered bills. You can also search by keyword and limit the search to all ratified bills, ratified bills by chamber, or unratified bills by chamber. The bill inquiry system will search by any combination of bill or chapter number, chamber, committee, county, date of introduction or last action, short title, sponsor, status, or term word (part of a standard set of words used by the Legislative Library’s list; follow links to view the list). The Assembly broadcasts proceedings before the house, senate, and finance and appropriations committees; Window Media Player is required. The calendar for each chamber is posted on its Web page.

North Dakota Legislative BranchYou may retrieve the full text of bills, resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and memorial resolutions through lists (arranged by number) or the topic index. The item number is necessary to access lists of versions and legislative actions. Other postings include house and senate journals, legislative deadlines for the current session, and a table of effective dates. The North Dakota University System (http://lbts.nodak.edu/) offers two subscription services: one with customized bill tracking, the other offering real-time updates of votes and other activity, as well as code section comparison tables and budget status information.

Ohio General AssemblyThe top page offers query boxes for retrieving bills by number or keyword. The Bills Online page will find bills by number, list them by sponsor, or find bills, analyses, or fiscal notes by keyword. The Legislative Service Commission’s bill analyses and status reports are available, as are the session calendar and a search engine for fiscal notes. The house and senate each post their calendar and committee schedule.

Oklahoma Legislative Information SystemOLIS offers a large number of bill tracking status reports for both active and inactive measures, which you can set up by specific measure, subject, history of actions, citation, author, committee, step in the legislative process, conferee, or status in conference or GCCA. The text of measures is available in RTF files, which combine pending legislation that has been subject to the same action (for example, all introduced measures in a particular chamber).

Oregon State LegislatureYou can search or browse the full text of bills or laws from the last three sessions. (The legislature is not in session this year.) There are also a topic index of legislative measures and "amend and repeal" tables indicating affected revised civil statutes sections. The site broadcasts chamber and committee proceedings with RealPlayer; previous broadcasts are archived.

Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Electronic Bill RoomRetrieve information about bills and resolutions by number or keyword. There are indexes of all pending legislation by chamber and by topic. Take the Bill Tracking Reports link to generate lists of actions, bills and resolutions introduced, or new printers’ numbers of bills. Look under Session for house and senate schedules and calendars.

Rhode Island General AssemblyRetrieve the text of pending legislation by bill number, sponsor, general laws citation, or keyword, or by browsing a subject index. A search engine for bill status or history will look by report title, committee, subject, sponsor, number, or type of action. Other resources include journals and committee and floor calendars. The Law Revision Website (http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Lawrevision/seclist/lawrev2000.htm) lists all enacted or potential changes to the general laws, based on pending legislation.

South Carolina General Assembly State House NetworkSouth Carolina has two search engines for bills. The full text option compares keywords against the text of bills, while the field name option searches by bill number, sponsor name, or committee. The search results include a list of all actions taken on a bill and link to all previous versions of it. The General Assembly offers a subscription service that sends e-mail notification when activity has occurred affecting designated bills. The site posts the current week’s schedule for both the house and the senate. Both chambers broadcast their proceedings live; RealPlayer is required for viewing.

South Dakota Legislative Research CouncilUse the Bill Directory link to view a list of bills (which can be all in the current session or a list you have customized) or run a keyword search of the full text of all bills. There is a subject index of bills, as well as lists of the ones that have been signed or vetoed by the governor. The Hoghouse Report identifies bills whose text has been entirely changed. You can set up bill tracking lists from this page or use a free service called "My Legislative Research," (http://www.state.sd.us/state/legis/lrc/mylrc/lrclogon.cfm) which allows users to customize the Legislative Research Council page. For calendars, journals, or committee agendas and minutes, press the Chamber or Committee icon.

Tennessee General AssemblyLocate the text of bills by browsing the filed bill index (which is organized by number and chamber) or legislative session index, or by using the search engine, which recognizes either the bill number or keywords. There are lists of bills by effective date and also of chaptered bills. The Daily Service lists actions, by date, taken by each chamber and committee. Each chamber posts its calendar and committee schedules on its home page.

Texas Legislature OnlineIf you know the bill number, use the Bill Information search engine to pull up the history, captions, actions, or text. Keyword searches are available for bill texts or analyses and fiscal notes. The amendments search engine recognizes author, bill number, reading, amendment type, action, and date or date range. House and senate calendars and committee schedules are online. Take the TLO Interactive link to view lists of bills by date of filing, author, subject, or committee. Use the Personal Bill List option to set up, at no charge, a tracking system for bills of your choice. TLO Interactive also offers live and archived video broadcasts of house, senate, and committee proceedings.

Utah State LegislatureThere is a separate page for each session of the legislature (including special ones) dating back to 1997. Each session page has lists of bills that were introduced (categorized by number, subject, or sponsor) or passed, as well as of code sections that were affected by enacted legislation. Engines are available to search the status or text of bills, the database of passed bills, and journals. Other resources include daily calendars, weekly schedules, journals, and a timetable of significant dates for processing legislation.

Vermont LegislatureThe Legislative Bill Tracking System offers multiple means of access to bills and resolutions. One search engine recognizes sponsor names or keywords, another uses the measure’s number to pull up its current status, and a third locates them by affected VSA section. Reports are available of almost every imaginable categorization, such as introduced, passed by one chamber, passed by both chambers, enacted, in committee, or with recent activity. There are also browsable lists and full-text search engines on the Legislative Documents page, which posts searchable calendars and journals as well. The legislature’s top page posts the week’s committee meeting schedule and selected meeting minutes.

Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information SystemThere is both a subject index and a searchable database of bills and resolutions. Multiple retrieval options are available for checking on status, including (but by no means limited to) bill number, committee, date of introduction, house of passage, and legislation that has been vetoed or carried over to the next session. The site also posts a meeting schedule and daily floor calendars. A subscription bill tracking service called Lobbyist-in-a-Box is available.

Washington State LegislatureThe search engine is the easiest way to access the text of bills. The topical index gives bill numbers and telegraphic synopses, but does not provide or link to the text or history. The Daily Status Report lists all bills in numerical order and gives their current status; like the topical index, this is one long text document without external links or internal jumps. The Bill Info page also posts correspondences tables between legislation and the code. The Legislative Info link contains calendars for the session, meeting schedules for both houses, and lists of legislation sponsored by each member.

West Virginia LegislatureThe Bill Tracking link allows you to search, browse, or download bills, abstracts, and resolutions. It also offers many avenues to browse status information, such as by committee, sponsor, subject, or affected code section. The Legislative Bulletin Board contains committee schedules, session calendars, and a search engine for locating bills introduced on a specific date. Enrolled bills appear under Acts of the Legislature.

Wisconsin LegislatureThe proposal number and session date are necessary to obtain the text and history of legislation under the Bills & Resolution link. A subject index offers another way to locate the full text of a proposal. A keyword search engine is available for enrolled bills. Other resources include a session schedule, weekly committee schedules, and daily floor calendars for each chamber.

Wyoming State LegislatureBill information is divided between the house and senate pages. Each contains a list of bills in numerical sequence, with their catch titles, enrolled act numbers, chapter numbers, and full text. The legislative schedule is available by month.        

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©Kathy Biehl 2000. All Rights Reserved.