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Federal Legislative Research: Bills

What is a Bill?

Congressional bills are legislative proposals from either the House of Representatives or the Senate. There are four types of bills proposed by Congress. All of them are identified by the chamber of their origin. Citations to legislative proposals are governed by Bluebook Rule 13.2.

1) Bills are proposed by a chamber in Congress, but they must be approved by both chambers and signed by the President of the United States. The bills are numbered sequentially in the order in which they are introduced and designated by the house of Congress in which they originated, either House Bills (H.R.) or Senate Bills (S.). 

Although many bills are introduced, very few become laws, and during the legislative process a bill may be amended or changed many times. Comparing the language of the different versions of the bill and sometimes provide insight into the legislators intent Additionally, it can be helpful to review any bills related to the bill in question that may have died in Congress. As bills travel through the legislative process, different terms are used to describe the different versions of the bill. Terms you may come across in your research are:

  • Introduced version: The bill or resolution that is originally submitted to the House or Senate by a member of Congress.
  • Markup version: Bills are often referred to committee and sub-committees. During these hearings, the committee members edit the bill by      adding, deleting and amending the language of the bill. This version is a working copy of the bill that is distributed to the committee members.
  • Reported version: Once a committee has completed their mark-ups, they create a copy of the bill that includes all of their edits. Added and deleted language is contained in the preamble to the bill, and if the bill has been to multiple committees, each committee's contribution to the bill is indicated by the use of different fonts. The Reported version of the bill is then sent back to the House or Senate along with the committee's report, and is published by the GPO. 
  • Engrossed version: This is  the version of the bill that has passed the chamber of Congress that originially introduced it. This version is generally not made available to the public. 
  • Act version: This title is derived from the fact that once a bill has passed one chamber of Congress and is presented to the other chamber it is called an Act. Generally, the engrossed version and the act version are identical. However, unlike the engrossed version, the Act version is published by the GPO. 
  • Enrolled version: This is the bill that has passed both houses of Congress and is ready for the President's signature. It is prepared by the Enrolling Clerk for accuracy, printed on parchment by the GPO, and has the signatures of officials of both houses of Congress.
  • Companion bill: Bills that are introduced simultaneously in both chambers of Congress with identical language are called companion bills. Companion bills do not have the same citation number.    

2) Joint Resolutions are used for limited matters, like a single appropriation or specific purpose, like a Constitutional amendment. Like bills, joint resolutions also originate in one chamber of Congress and must be approved by both chambers of the Congress and the President. Joint resolutions are abbreviated as H.J. Res. for a House Joint Resolution or S.J. Res. for a Senate Joint Resolution. 

3) Concurrent Resolutions originate in either the House or Senate and are used to make or amend rules that apply to both houses of Congress. They require the approval of both chambers, but do not need to be approved by the President, so they do not have the force of law. House Concurrent Resolutions are abbreviated H. Con. Res. and Senate Concurrent Resolutions are abbreviated S. Con. Res. 

4) Simple Resolutions originate either in the House (H. Res.) or Senate (S. Res.), and require the approval of neither the President nor the other chamber of Congress.  They are used to address matters that rest within one chamber and do not carry the force of law. 

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