Three Examples

Here are three examples of legislative histories.

Example 1 The Legislative History Of Nutritional Labeling 1906-1987

What this example shows

This history of an issue includes litigation as well as multiple, selected legislative actions (see Scope, this chapter). The author chose a report as the medium or presentation. It is titled, as a report typically is, rather than provided with a header, as a memo typically is. The title and overview connect this report to a context, a process underway in 2002 to amend existing legislation proposed in 1989. This report traces landmark legislation leading up to the 1989 bill, the most recent action on the subject.

Organizationally, the report begins with an initial overview followed by summaries of major legislation arranged chronologically. Subheadings (congressional session and date) move an unfolding story of action along. Each summary concludes with a statement of the act’s significance in a trend. The message of the report is to show that trend (see method, chapter 2). Thus, the concluding sentence of each summary reinforces the message by adding a new bit to the reader’s recognition of the trend.

No purpose or audience for this report is identified; the undergraduate policy writing course assignment that prompted the research did not require it. That is a limitation on real world use, but this document nonetheless meets some of the expected standards for usability. It could serve a nonprofit organization wishing to inform its members about a current legislative priority.
Credibility is enhanced by the report’s organization, which suggests care taken by an informed author to select key actions (well cited). Presentation here is authoritative and readable. The author has recognized a legislative trend and has selected, condensed, and ordered relevant legislation as well as litigation to highlight milestones in that trend. These choices and communication techniques encourage readers to agree with his position that new action is needed.

Careful citation here supports credibility. Readability is served by the way citations are handled. Citations are distributed across two locations in the text. Subheadings for summaries cite the legislative session, record number, and common name of each bill; a footnote at the end of each summary refers to citations at the end of the document, where the act is fully referenced using government record identifiers and bibliographic style (see Task #4, and checklists).
The document is designed for use. Despite its brevity, it could be more concise.  Sentences are typically long and many sentences include un­necessary words (see checklists, chapter 2). The writer could shorten sentences to emphasize key information better, as illustrated below.


The bill sought to amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to force fast food restaurants to label pre-packaged goods with nutritional labels and to display nutritional and ingredient information in clearly visible places in their restaurants. The bill also sought to amend the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act to allow for nutritional information to be posted in restaurants. (65 words)


The bill amends the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require nutritional labeling of pre-packaged goods and clearly visible display of ingredients by fast food restaurants. The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act are amended to allow ingredients display in restaurants. (45 words; 20 word reduction or 30% briefer)
The revision removes repetition of words (“bill sought to amend” and “nutritional information”) and unnecessary explanation (“in clearly visible places”).


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Example 2. The Legislative History of Banning the Use of Cell Phones While Driving

Example 3. The Legislative History of the Criminalization of Cocaine

What These Examples Show

Examples 2 on cell phone use and 3 on drug abuse policy illustrate purposeful research for inquiry and reporting for advocacy. In both cases, the inquiring writer searched government records to inform the nonprofit organization’s spokesperson (simulated) in preparation for requesting legislative action to regulate cell phone use (Example 2) or stating a position opposing the current direction of drug abuse policy (Example 3). Results of the records search are summarized in memos representing the organization and addressed to elected state-level officials (Example 2) and to unnamed federal-level committee members (Example 3).

In policy process terms, these documents typify the two main reasons for writing legislative histories, either to chronicle prior action (Example 2) or to characterize a pattern of legislative intent (Example 3).

They illustrate the typical actors in roles who generate and use information in a policy process. In both examples, nonprofit organizations (simulated) collect information for the purpose of persuading elected officials to solve a defined problem. If policy makers agree to take up the problem described in example 2, makers of goods and providers of services in automobile, telephonic, and computer industries will likely join the debate, as will consumer organizations. Professionals outside government such as attorneys and legal services providers, public health care providers, lobbyists, and community advocates along with professional staff members inside government will likely be involved if the policy redirection advocated in example 3 gains traction, as journalists like to say.

Intergovernmental action is illustrated in example 2, where municipal, state, and federal responses are described.

Communication would be improved by reducing wordiness in both documents. Here is an illustration from example 2.


Unfortunately, your bills to amend Chapter 20 of the North Carolina General Statutes to ban the use of cell phones by all drivers have not yet been passed into law.

The following review of current legislation shows that the important work of making our streets and highways safer from dangers posed by distracted drivers has begun. Unfortunately, current legislation falls dangerously short in the area of cell phone use by drivers. (72 words)


Unfortunately, your amendments to Chapter 20 to ban the use of cell phones by all drivers are not yet law.

The following review of current legislation shows that the important work of making our streets and highways safer has begun. But it falls short of banning all drivers’ use of cell phones. (50 words)

The revision removes repetition (“dangers,” “dangerously,” “unfortunately,” “current legislation”) and excess procedural detail (“have not been passed into law”). It retains other repetition needed for accuracy in context (“use of cell phones by all drivers”).

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