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What is a public law?

Public Law Congress Public Law Number
P.L. 85 1

Public laws result from the passage of public bills or joint resolutions that affect the general public or classes of citizens. A legislative proposal agreed to in identical form by both Chambers becomes a law if it: receives Presidential approval, is not returned with objections to the House in which it originated within 10 days while Congress is in session, or, in the case of a proposal that has been vetoed by the President, receives a two-thirds vote overriding the veto in each Chamber.

  • Prior to the 57th Congress (1901), public laws were identified by assigned Statutes at Large chapter numbers.
  • In 1901, a separate public law numbering system was introduced which assigned public law numbers sequentially, with the sequence beginning anew with each session of Congress. In the 60th Congress (1907), a system of sequential numbering of public laws was adopted which began anew at the beginning of each Congress rather than each congressional session.
  • In the 85th Congress (1957), the chapter numbering was discontinued and the current system was adopted in which public laws are cited with the sequentially assigned public law number prefixed by the Congress in which the law was enacted.

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