Once upon a time, to get copies of bills introduced in state Legislatures and the U.S. Congress, reporters used to have to go in person to state capitols or to Washington, D.C.
But now states and the U.S. Congress have put legislative databases on the Web so you can find the bills that are pending or were passed by lawmakers.
On a local level, many cities are putting online the agendas of council meetings, minutes of previous council meetings and, in some cases, agenda packets that include reports on the resolutions and measures being considered by a council.
Federal Legislation Online
To search for information on federal legislation in both the House and Senate you can use the Thomas website run by the Library of Congress. It’s at:
The site lets you search:
- A legislation database of bills being considered by Congress. You can search by bill number or by a topical keyword or phrase to find bills relating to particular subject. Or you can search by the name of a member of Congress to see the bills he/she has sponsored. You’ll get the text, the history and the status of any bill.
- The Congressional Record, which has transcripts of statements by members of Congress and testimony before Congress. You can search by keyword to find statements or testimony on a particular topic.
- Congressional committee reports on legislation. You can search by topical keyword or by bill number.
For more information on using the Thomas site, go to the Help page.
For help understanding how the legislative process works in Congress, go to the Thomas site’s guide on The Legislative Process.
State Legislation Online
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a website that is a gateway to the web pages of state Legislatures around the country:
California Legislation Online
The California Legislature Portal website has links to websites for both the Senate and Assembly, as well as other state government web pages related to legislation. It’s at:
It has a Bill Search feature on the right you can use to search by bill number, bill author, or topical keyword to find legislation.
You can search in the current legislative session or previous sessions back to 1993-94.
When you do a search and call up the listing for a particular bill, you’ll see links to the status of the bill, its history, the original and different amended versions of the bill, analyses of the legislation and committee votes on the bill.
For information on individual members of the Senate or Assembly and their legislative districts, at the main California Legislative Portal page click on the links in the section on the left for Legislators and Districts.
You also can try the California Legislative Information website which has a similar search engine for tracking bills and a search engine for looking up sections of the California code (bills that have been enacted into law).
Local Government Legislation Online
Many local government agencies like city councils, county boards of supervisors and school districts are putting online their agendas, votes on local ordinances and other measures, minutes of past meetings or even packets of background information on agenda items.
You need to check the website for the agency to see what’s available, usually at a city clerk, county clerk or clerk of the school board office.
For help locating local government websites around the United States try the State and Local Governments on the Net site.
San Francisco Bay Area Local Government Websites
The Association of Bay Area Governments website keeps a list of the home pages of all kinds of public agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Go to:
At the ABAG home page, click on the section on the left labeled Government and you’ll see links to listings for Bay Area cities and counties.
Click on the More link for listings for school districts, regional agencies and special districts.
Here are links to the websites for getting agendas for the city councils in Oakland and Richmond and the board of supervisors in San Francisco:
About this Tutorial
This tutorial was originally written by Paul Grabowicz for students in his Computer Assisted Reporting class, and later modified for public use.