Thomas Website in the United States

Bill Information

Pg. 6-21 and 6-22 of the book “In Legal Research, How to Find & Understand the Law”, by Stephen Elias and Susan Levinkind, provide a good overview of how Thomas work and its capabilities:

“Much of the information available for the current session of Congress is also available for a number of sessions immediately preceding it. At the Thomas site you’ll find:

  • Summaries of bills by bill number (such as S. 123, H.R. 245) and by Public Law number (a number attached to bills that became law, as in PL 96-4537). These summaries are available back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974). Although the preferred method for researching federal laws is by using the United States Code, often you don’t have the Code section number. Instead, you’ll have a reference to a bill or public law number. In the law library, you can use the Statutes at Large and U.S. Code and Congressional News (USCCN) publications to find these items. On the Web, you can find a summary of the referenced legislation (going back at least 25 years), which may be all you need. The summary will usually provide enough information to let you easily locate the legislation in the applicable part of the United States Code, which can also be searched on the Web.
  • The full text of all bills introduced into Congress from the 101st Congress (1991-1992) onward. Sometimes, the summary described above won’t be enough. You’ll want to see the full text of the bill in question.
  •   The full text of the Congressional Record from the 101st Congress (1989-1990) onward. If you are willing to spend the time, you can find pretty much anything you want about congressional actions during this period, such as the remarks of representatives delivered on the House or Senate floor in regard to a piece of legislation. Also, Thomas carries the Congressional Record index back to the 104th Congress.
  •   Selected Committee reports from the 104th Congress (1993-1994) onward. Often, the key to understanding a new bill is the analysis by the major congressional committee that has considered it. These analyses are gold mines of information: They usually explain the bill in plain English, suitable for a busy Congressperson, and lay out the arguments for and against the legislation. You’ll also learn which lobbying groups supported the bill.”

(after opening the website)

“It’s clear there’s a lot going on here. Let’s first take a quick tour of this home page. In the top center of the page, below the Thomas Jefferson banner, there are three links that let you quickly review:

  • the House of Representatives’ activities on the current day,
  • the House’s tentative calendar for the current week, and
  • the Senate’s tentative calendar for the current month.

Just below these links is a search box that lets you perform a key word or bill number search for legislation currently being considered by Congress. Over on the left are features that have been recently added to Thomas, and some useful FAQs designed to help you use Thomas.
Moving on down the left side of the page, you’ll find links to a number of useful pages containing:

  • a description of the legislative process
  • links to other branches of the federal government
  • historical documents, and
  • directories to the Senate and House members.

Now, look into the Legislation heading. It’s an entirely different story in the section under the Legislation heading.
The first link lets you search for the summary and status of particular bills that have been introduced in the current and previous sessions of Congress. The second link lets you search directly for the full text of the legislation. The third link lets you search for legislation by public law number….

Open the Bill Summary and Status page. The link to the Bill Summary and Status page for the current … Congress takes you to a page which provides a number of ways to search for legislation. First, you may search by Bill, Amendment or Public Law Number. Since in this
example we don’t have that information, we will need to use another method of search. In addition to a key word search option (the one we’ll end up using), the other
search options are:

  • Search by Sponsor or Cosponsor
  • Search by Committee
  • Search by the bill’s stage in the legislative process
  • Search by the Date of Introduction, or Search a list of terms known as the Legislative Indexing Vocabulary, a controlled vocabulary for legislative subject searching.

If you entered the term “bankruptcy” in the Legislative Indexing Vocabulary, you would end up with two hits, one of which is the bankruptcy “abuse” bill we are looking for. Similarly, if you use the key word search option (termed Word/Phrase on the Thomas site), you would also
end up with two hits. However, if you use the Word/Phrase option and add the term “abuse” to the search, you will get one hit, which is the very bill we are searching
for (HR 833).

By clicking on the link to HR 833, you’ll pull up a number of options. Click on the Status option to find out where the bill stands. As of the writing of this new edition … the bill had passed the House and was awaiting action in the Senate. If you use this example to explore Thomas, the status will have undoubtedly changed by that time.
If you wish to read the actual text of the bill, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the Text link.
This will take you to a page that lists one or more versions of the bill available for viewing. Generally, the version farthest along in the legislative process will appear at the top. In the case of this example, the top version is the “engrossed” version, the one that has been sent to the Senate.

That’s the version you would want to examine.”



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