July 7, 2010
In our continuing effort to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, we now present a brief discussion concerning public laws, and how they can be tracked using THOMAS.
Once the bill is signed by the president, it is sent to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), which is a division of the National Archives and Records Administration. The signed bill is then prepared for publication by the staff of the Federal Register. It is also assigned a public law number, which is specific to that bill. Since 1957, public laws have been designated as "Public Law X-Y," where X is the number of the Congress (currently the 111th Congress) and Y is the sequential number of the law. Public laws are sometimes referred to as "Acts of Congress."
Next, OFR prepares the new public law in the form of a slip law. A slip law is an official publication of the law and is admissible as "legal evidence" (1 U.S.C. 113). The OFR assigns the permanent law number and legal statutory citation of each law and prepares marginal notes, citations, and the legislative history (a brief description of the Congressional action taken on each public bill), which also contains dates of related presidential remarks or statements. The OFR publishes the slip laws through the Congressional Printing Management Division, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). Slip laws can be obtained: a) as electronic documents free of charge, on the GPO Access Service, maintained by the U.S. Government Printing Office; or b) in a paper format, either by subscription or purchasing individual copies at a Federal Depository Library.
Finally, the OFR then compiles, indexes and publishes the laws in The United States Statutes at Large, which is legal and permanent evidence of all the laws enacted during a session of Congress (as required by 1 U.S.C. 112). It also contains concurrent resolutions, reorganization plans, proposed and ratified amendments to the Constitution, and proclamations by the president. It is published under the direction of the OFR through the Congressional Printing Management Division, U.S. Government Printing Office and is not available in electronic format.
Tracking action on a bill after it has been signed into law will require you to return to the results Web page for the original bill on THOMAS. The link entitled "All Congressional Actions" will give you all the information about your original bill. The final line will show the public law number of your original bill. Also, you can use the hyperlink "Public Laws" on the main page of THOMAS. Clicking on that link will take you to a result page which lists all public laws in numerical order.