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Federal Tax Law Research: Legislative History

A starter's research guide to the resources and tools available when researching federal tax law, with emphasis on primary law sources, administrative law materials, major tax law databases, and major secondary tax law sources.

Legislative History Sources

What is a legislative history?

A legislative history is conducted through reviewing documents and materials made by legislators during the process of bill passage. Legislative history documents can include: Congressional Hearing testimony, Committee Reports, research reports from the Congressional Research Service, previous draft/versions of a bill, and transcripts of Congressional debates (among many other items).

Why does legislative history matter in tax law research?

Legislative histories help you to find more information for an interpretation of a law. By searching through the documents that helped shape the final version of the law, a researcher can gain insight into what the ultimate goal of the legislation was, what issues were unclear, and what considerations were/were not important during the bill's passage process. Conducting a legislative history can assist you in supporting a certain interpretation of a law or in resolving ambiguities in the language of the law.

In tax law research, conducting a legislative history can help you better understand the complexities of sections of the Tax Code, how implementation was intended to happen, and what other considerations legislators highlighted before passing the final version of the law in question. Tax law is heavily dependent upon interpretation and meaning. The Tax Code features many ambiguities in language and procedure, thus, a legislative history can help you as a researcher to gain some clarity as to Congress' intent.

ProQuest Congressional features documents and materials related to all legislative activity in the United States. Information related to bills, regulations, and executive actions can all be found here. As such, it is one of the most useful resources for legislative history materials. The database allows keyword searching and searching by type of document (e.g. roll call votes, bills, witnesses etc.). Additionally, filtering to particular documents is also available, such as filtering results to Bills or Laws, Legislative Histories, Congressional Record issues, House and Senate Reports, maps, and other document types. is the official website of Federal legislative activity in the House and Senate. This free, government website allows users to search for past and current legislation, view versions of bills, determine dates of interest, bill sponsors, read issues of the Congressional Record, and view Committee Reports.

Bluebooks are more detailed explanations of Tax Code sections organized per Congress and published by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.  Bluebooks can be accessed online through subscription services like CCH Intelliconnect, or at no-cost via the Joint Committee on Taxation's website.

Other Legislative History Tools

Compiled Legislative Histories

Some laws already have documents compiled together in a legislative history. Both HeinOnline and ProQuest Congressional offer compiled legislative histories for certain laws, including for many pieces of tax legislation.