How do you track legislation without bill numbers?
April 27, 2006 8:07 PM   Subscribe

How do you track U.S. federal legislation for which bill numbers -- either of the house record (H.R.) or Senate (S.) variety -- have not yet been assigned?

In the debate about the recent network neutrality amendment to a house bill (the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006"), I noticed that it was extraordinarily difficult to find the bill itself on any of the normal bill tracking websites like Govtrack or Thomas.

It was difficult enough finding the bill's name mentioned in the articles about the network neutrality amendment. Clearly the article's authors assume their readers are not interested in such "technical" information. But I found it ridiculous that I couldn't find the bill on the bill-tracking sites. I found it serendipitously when I stumbled on the house energy committee's dedicated website from google.

The problem, I discovered was that the bill lacked a house record (H.R.) number -- a status I believe it will maintain until the house committee marks it up and sends it out to the full house. I'll put aside for a moment the fact that many of the "civics 101" citizen-help websites mislead readers by suggesting that a record number is the first thing a bill gets.

Is there some centralized way of tracking these bills rather than visiting every relevant committee website? Am I missing some feature on Govtrack or Thomas that would enable me to do this? Thanks.
posted by shivohum to Law & Government (7 answers total)
 
can you find it by sponsor?
posted by Izzmeister at 8:59 PM on April 27, 2006


Unfortunately not... I tried looking up Joe Barton on Thomas, but the bill did not come up.
posted by shivohum at 9:02 PM on April 27, 2006


I'll put aside for a moment the fact that many of the "civics 101" citizen-help websites mislead readers by suggesting that a record number is the first thing a bill gets.

I suspect that the simple truth is that this bill hasn't been formally introduced yet. There's nothing to stop a committee from working on a proto-bill before a member formally introduces it to the House, and lots of legislative "action" can happen before a bill is introduced.

I don't know of any handy method to track them except to follow journalists who attend the hearings and markup sessions.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:34 PM on April 27, 2006


i don't know if this is practical for you, but when i was in law school, students made money chasing bills around. basically, they'd get paid to stand around in line to get into hearings or call aides. it's technically public information; there's just no dissemination and it's tough to get someone to talk to you if you don't "count".

the other thing to consider is that it's been attached to another bill and can be tracked by that number.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:16 AM on April 28, 2006


the other thing to consider is that it's been attached to another bill and can be tracked by that number.

I'd have to go look at my Oleszek bible, but IIRC that's only true if it's a substitute bill or written as an amendment in the nature of a substitute. My impression from glancing at the bill is that it's just something the committee is working on before someone introduces it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:56 AM on April 28, 2006


If the bill hasn’t been officially introduced, it doesn’t yet officially exist, and won’t, therefore, be on THOMAS or any other bill-tracking service. Most tracking services either harvest their data from THOMAS, or get it from the same source that THOMAS does, the GPO.

Once the bill is introduced, you’ll find Bill Summary & Status information on THOMAS within a few hours. However, the bill text can take a week or more to be available, as it has to go through the GPO first.

Any un-numbered bill you find on a committee or Member site is likely to be a draft version only. Of course, a bill has to be drafted before it can be introduced, so it’s not unusual for draft versions to float around for a while before introduction. Heck, you or I could write a draft version of a bill and post it on our website, but that doesn’t mean it’ll actually be introduced. Patriot Act II circulated in multiple different versions for years before it was introduced.

There is some discussion of the legislation in the Congressional Record. That’s all I could find, that you haven’t already referred to.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:19 AM on April 28, 2006


I think Billtrack at CQ Weekly might be a good place to start. If you have access to a university library, you should be able to access the CQ archives and databases.

Also, check out Roll Call and GPO Access.
posted by JDC8 at 1:55 PM on April 29, 2006


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