One Stop Shopping for Legislative Information for Social Work Students

Federal Legislation

The chief function of Congress is making laws.

Ideas for legislation can be proposed by the President, individual Senators or Representatives, you, me, or any United States citizen.

A proposal must be considered and approved by both Houses (also called Chambers) of Congress in order to become a law.

A Congress lasts for two years and is divided into two regular sessions (one session per calendar year).

Proposed legislation takes the form of a bill or joint resolution.


Bills are numbered in sequence, starting with 1. So the first bill introduced during a new session of the Senate would be numbered S. 1. The first bill introduced during a new session of the House of Representatives would be numbered H.R. 1.

Major legislation is often introduced in both houses in the form of companion (identical) bills.

The member of Congress introducing the bill is known as the primary sponsor. Any number of members may cosponsor a public bill.

Typically, a bill is introduced or "read" into one house of Congress, and then it is assigned to a committee or committees. This is considered by some to be the most important part of the legislative process. This is also the part of the process where the public is given the opportunity to be heard.

If the committee reports favorably on the bill, the committee staff writes a report. Committee Reports can be an important source of information regarding the purpose and meaning of a law.

A committee may also "table" a bill or fail to take action on it, thereby preventing its report back to the full House or Senate. If a bill is tabled in committee, it generally dies there. If the committee reports favorably on a bill, it goes back up to the full House or Senate for general debate, at which time amendments may be offered. If the bill passes, it is sent to the other chamber for consideration.

The bill must be approved in identical form in both Houses of Congress in order to go to the President for signature. If he approves, the President signs it, and it becomes law. If he disapproves, the President can return the bill with objections, thus vetoing the bill. If 2/3 of Congress votes to pass the bill, not withstanding the objections of the President, the veto is overridden and the bill becomes law.

Joint Resolution

Very similar to a bill. Bills are generally used to add, repeal, or amend laws. Joint Resolutions are generally used to authorize small appropriations, for continuing resolutions, to create temporary commissions, to declare war.

Joint Resolutions originating in the House are designated H.J. Res, followed by a number (e.g. H.J. Res 138). Joint Resolutions originating in the Senate are designated S. Res, followed by a number (e.g. S. Res 1).

A Joint Resolution goes through the same process as a bill, unless it's used to propose an amendment to the Constitution.

Concurrent Resolution

A Concurrent Resolution addresses a matter affecting the operations of both Houses, but is not sent to the President for approval and does not become law.

Simple Resolution

A Simple Resolution addresses the rules, operations, or opinions of either House alone (e.g. rule changes). It is not sent to the President and does not become law.

U.S. Senate

100 members - Two from each state regardless of population or area (currently 50 states). Term of office is 6 years. Executive business of the Senate is advising and consenting to treaties and to certain nominations of the President.

U.S. House of Representatives

435 members. Based on the population of each state. Term of office is 2 years. The House of Representatives originates revenue bills.

Helpful Websites

Congress.gov - Find current and past federal legislation, status of current legislation, look up members of Congress, names of Committees, and Committee Members.

North Carolina General Assembly - Find current and past North Carolina state legislation, status of current state legislation, look up members of the General Assembly, names of Committees, and Committee Members.

Committee Reports of the U.S. Congress - Full text of the Committee Reports that accompanied federal bills and resolutions. Can be filtered by Congress (date), Chamber of Origin, Committee, or Report Type.

National Association of Social Workers - Go to the Advocacy page to see what issues concern your professional organization.

U.S. Government Publishing Office - Official, digital, and secure source for producing, protecting, preserving, and distributing the official publications and information products of the federal government. Look here for the Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Register, United States Code, United States Statutes at Large, and many other federal publications.

North Carolina Judicial Branch - An overview of the court system for North Carolina, including resources for career opportunities, publications, and more.

Ballotpedia - Covers local, state and federal politics. Editors strive for neutral, accurate, and verifiable information on government officials and the offices they hold, political issues and public policy, elections, candidates, and the influencers of politics.

GovTrack - Publishes the status of federal legislation, information about your representative and senators in Congress including voting records, and original research on bills and votes. GovTrack gets its information from a variety of sources, including official government data as well as community data repositories.

Federal Election Commission - The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the independent regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance law. The FEC has jurisdiction over the financing of campaigns for the U.S. House, Senate, Presidency and the Vice Presidency.

OpenSecrets.org - Center for Responsive Politics tracks money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy.

Randall Library Databases

ProQuest Social Sciences Databases - Search 24 databases related to the Social Sciences simultaneously.

CQ Researcher - The CQ Researcher is a source for research on current topics or major controversial issues of the day. It provides complete summaries, all the pros and cons, bibliographies, and more.

Data-Planet - Search and browse 35 billion data points in over 4.9 billion datasets sourced from over 70 authoritative government and private sources, covering 16 subject areas.

SimplyAnalytics - Web-based mapping application that lets you create professional-quality maps and reports using demographic, data. SimplyAnalytics currently offers over 70,000 data variables related to demographics, employment, real estate & housing, crime, businesses, consumer spending, and points of interest.

Westlaw Campus Research - A comprehensive database of legal materials including federal and state statutes, codes, regulations, and case law materials. Includes articles from legal journals, detailed company and financial data, as well as state, national, and international journals and newspapers.

HeinOnline - Contains more than 1,200 law and law-related periodicals. HeinOnline also contains Congressional Record Bound volumes in entirety, complete coverage of the U.S. Reports back to 1754, the Federal Register from inception in 1936, the CFR from inception in 1938, a library of U.S. Congressional documents, U.S. Federal legislative history and much more.


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