Update: Adding Bill Summaries

Last month we began adding original summaries of select legislation introduced in this Congress.

Civic engagement in the legislative process requires not only that the public have access to legislation proposed in Congress, but also that they be able to understand it. However, bills can be extremely long and often consist primarily of cross-references to other paragraphs and sections, as well as current law. This means that you may need to open multiple documents to understand a single bill. Moreover, the purpose of many bills is not clearly spelled out, and historical or legislative background is only occasionally provided.

Thus, the unfortunate reality is that even Members of Congress and their staff sometimes don’t fully know what a bill contains. Witness the confusion surrounding the lengthy and complicated health care bill in 2009. And lawmakers are aware of this problem: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) recently proposed a bill that would require every piece of congressional legislation to be written in a way that allows members to understand what it does.

Here at GovTrack we’ve gotten a fair amount of complaints about wordy, incomprehensible legislative language. So we’ve started doing our own research on certain bills, in an effort to provide simple and straightforward explanations of their content and purpose. These are bills that have gotten a lot of coverage in the press and social media, have many of our users tracking them, or have piqued our interest. Oftentimes, they have all three features.

Here’s a list of the bills we’ve summarized so far, ordered by the number of users tracking them:

  1. H.J.Res. 15: A bill to repeal presidential term limits
  2. S. 150, H.R. 437: Assault Weapons Ban of 2013
  3. H.R. 138, S. 33: Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act
  4. H.R. 142, S. 35: Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act of 2013
  5. H.R. 21: NRA Members’ Gun Safety Act of 2013
  6. H.R. 141: Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2013
  7. H.R. 193: Seed Availability and Competition Act of 2013
  8. S. 22: Gun Show Background Check Act of 2013

This post was written by GovTrack’s director of communications Aviad Eilam.


  1. Are these summaries created automatically (e.g. by processing text)? If so, do you have any details on the process?


  2. It is about time someone thought about this idea, writing a bill that the general public can read without becoming an Attorney.

    Thank you.


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