What is the Legislative History Database?

The legislative history database is a comprehensive collection of legislative history files and reference information related to every public law designating federal wilderness. Many of these laws were only enacted after years of congressional hearings and reports, along with a multitude of failed bills. This database collects and organizes available information for every relevant bill, and cross-references each bill with the public law and wilderness area it is related to. A failed bill may include wilderness areas which were designated many years later by a number of different public laws. Each related public law then necessarily contains this previous bill in its legislative history. In order to best present a comprehensive genealogy of each of these laws, duplicate entries for these "seed" bills are included with each relevant law.

Many entries in the database include a corresponding PDF file with the text of the record. These records include floor debate, speeches, testimony, and committee reports. The reference information to find most of these records in any federal repository library is included in the database, and will be necessary to research the details of most bills prior to 1989. This database was compiled using electronic information found primarily from online sources Lexis-Nexis and THOMAS, and was verified and supplemented with information from printed congressional records. Lexis-Nexis provides files and information through the 101st Congress (1989-1990), and THOMAS provides information back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974).

Organization of the Legislative History Database

The legislative database is organized to provide a sense of temporal progression through not only the life of a particular law, but through the entire legislative history of wilderness designation itself. A bill's legislative history is listed in reverse chronological order beginning with the last-action-date (LAD) and ending with its earliest action. This information can be cross-referenced in a bill's tracking report (BTR), which summarizes all of a bill's relevant information, and acts like a roadmap for further investigating the details of a bill. While the LAD would theoretically be the latest date for the records included with a particular bill, there are a few exceptions. Some early wilderness bills were referenced in congressional hearings which occurred after the last published action in their BTRs. These hearings are therefore not referenced in the published BTRs, but are included here as part of a bill's legislative history.

Last-action-dates are also not necessarily the date on which a bill was signed and enacted into law. A significant number of legislative histories for these successful bills contain legislative actions which follow the signature of the President. In organizing this database, the LAD was used rather than the date a bill was enacted into law.

Using the Database

Each row in the database contains information about a specific congressional record, some of which appear within the legislative histories of multiple public laws. Information is organized primarily by public law number, and so duplicate records have a unique entry within every related public law's history. Bills which are a part of multiple legislative histories have cross-referencing information under the Additional Notes column, as do Congressional Hearings and Reports. When a Congressional Hearing references more than one bill in a single law's legislative history, the hearing is placed within the legislative history of the bill with the most recent LAD. House and Senate Reports typically reference only one specific bill, while Congressional Hearings often contain testimony for a number of different bills and subsequently enacted public laws.

Most entries contain reference information to find each record's print-based resource. Congressional Hearings have call numbers critical to their location, while Congressional Reports can be found in sequential volumes by Congress and report number, both of which are provided in each database record. Another means of accessing document information is through Congressional Information Service (CIS) volumes, dating from 2000 to 1971. Most of the important information from these entries is contained in the database, however, the CIS information is provided as another cross-referencing tool.

In the downloadable spreadsheet of all legislative history data, cells are generally left blank if information is unavailable. A cell is left blank in the Wilderness Area(s) column if this information is unknown, or if the document does not specify a particular area. In this spreadsheet, wilderness areas in green text have not yet been federally-designated through any subsequent legislation. For records which do not have corresponding searchable PDF files, the wilderness areas included are often simply those proposed for designation by the bill itself. However, any deviations between a bill's LAD entry and subsequent entries in the Wilderness Area(s) cell, indicates that a document has been browsed in order to provide accurate wilderness area content.

For omnibus bills containing wilderness designations, only documents pertaining to wilderness are included in the legislative histories. If a bill passes the Senate or House without any debate, remarks, reports, or hearings mentioning wilderness, then the files included may appear rather sparse; for some public laws, only the Bill Tracking Report, representing the final bill and its text, may include reference to wilderness. This document does, however, provide all the necessary information for referencing different stages of these omnibus bills as desired.

For more information about legislative history and the legislative history database, read the August 2010 issue of the International Journal of Wilderness.

Return to the legislative history search.