Monday, May 18, 2009

Online Bill Tracking Resources

Since convening on January 6, the 111th Congress has already generated nearly 2,500 bills in the House and another 1,000 in the Senate. How many have become public law so far? About 25.

With odds like those, how can you possibly stay on top of all the proposed legislation which could affect your client’s case, your law review article, or even your country’s official language? The Goodson Blogson investigated some popular free and fee-based online sources for tracking legislation at both the federal and state levels.

  • THOMAS (
    This free service from the Library of Congress remains a favorite source for finding information about federal legislation. Bill summary and status information is available back to the 93rd Congress; as well as the full text of bills from 1989-present. Search by keywords, bill numbers, or a variety of other options (e.g. sponsors and actions taken); bills can also be browsed. Bill summary and status reports provide links to the text of related committee reports and debates in the Congressional Record.

    Unfortunately, THOMAS lacks an email or RSS alert feature for tracking updates to individual bill status reports. GovTrackUS ( is a free site (registration required) which provides such a service at the individual bill level. OpenCongress (, a project from the Sunlight Foundation, also offers free RSS feeds for tracking federal legislation.

  • LexisNexis (
    Federal bill tracking reports are available on Lexis through the path Legal > Legislation & Politics - U.S. & U.K. > U.S. Congress > Bill Tracking Report - Current Congress. Bill reports are updated by noon the next business day following any action in Congress.

  • Westlaw (
    Last week, Westlaw announced the debut of Graphical Bills. Like Westlaw’s popular Graphical KeyCite feature for cases and statutes, Graphical Bills presents a visual depiction of a bill’s progress through Congress. You can access the graphical view for bills introduced after January 2009 by clicking the “Links” tab in a result list. (Check out the example of HR 1913 Graphical by clicking any of the four bill versions, then choosing the "Graphical Bills" link.)

    Other federal bill tracking databases on Westlaw are available from the Directory > U.S. Federal Materials > Bill Tracking.

Although most have already adjourned for the summer, it’s worth noting here that many state legislatures offer bill tracking services like THOMAS. Quality and coverage will vary widely by state—the North Carolina General Assembly is certainly near the top of the list with its multiple bill search features and options to track session activity as well as individual bills with RSS (

Access the legislature websites of all 50 states through the National Conference of State Legislatures lookup page ( (Select the desired states from the left-hand column and choose “Bills” from the right-hand column to retrieve the links.)

Lexis offers state bill tracking through the path Legal > Legislation & Politics - U.S. & U.K. > U.S. States > Individual State Bill Tracking (Current). There is also a combined database (State Net Bill Tracking - Current Session) which compiles bill text and status information for the current legislative sessions of all 50 states.

Westlaw also offers a variety of individual-state and combined-state legislative tracking databases from the Directory > U.S. State Materials > Legislative Tracking Materials.

Did we overlook your favorite source for bill tracking? Let us know in the comments.