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Trending on OpenCongress

July 2, 2009 - by Isabelle Cutting

Unsurprisingly, the recently voted-upon Cap-and-Trade bill has been dominating the discourse and attention of OpenCongress users this past week. Behind all that action, however, users have kept on voting on bills, members, and issue areas via our Battle Royal function. Here are some highlights of those trending bills, which we didn’t want to slip by, unnoticed.

1. H.R.2996: Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act

Voted on a quarter hour before the House began its debate of the climate change bill, this bill grants appropriations to agencies within the Department of the Interior, departments related to health and the environment, and a third group of assorted agencies ranging from the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 254-173 with three amendments, largely refocusing $37 million in funding to environmental restoration projects. On a less predictable note, however, the last amendment touches on the U.S. government’s efforts to mitigate the national demand and traffic of illicit drugs. The amendment more specifically provides funding for efforts related to removing marijuana sites and clandestine methamphetamine labs from the National Forest System as well as prohibiting drug traffickers on NFS lands bordering Canada and Mexico.

2. H.R.634: Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act

This bill seeks to prohibit transporting a minor across state lines in order to obtain an abortion by deeming such traffic to be a de facto violation of parental rights and the parental notification requirements of some states. Similarly the bill seeks to criminalize physicians who, knowingly, perform such abortions. As abortion is an extremely contentious issue, for which semantics play a vital role, the bill explicitly defines it’s desired scope of abortion and makes provisionary exceptions for abortions needed to save the life of the minor involved.

This same legislation was sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R, FL-18] in the 109th congress where it and its companion bill passed both the House and the Senate but never came into law when differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill could not be reached. An identical bill died after being introduced in the following Congressional session, even while carrying more co-sponsors than the current bill’s count of 120 republican and blue dog democrat supporters. This congressional session’s version of the bill has been shifting committee hands since its introduction in January.

3. H.J.Res.47: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States giving Congress power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States

Instead of gaining attention in anticipation of this weekend’s symbolic festivities, this self-explanatory legislation has been “cooling down” among OpenCongress voters. What is notable about this declining trend is that it mirrors the corresponding enthusiasm held by House Representatives. While this resolution has attracted 49 co-sponsors, such support is relatively tame in comparison to previous congressional terms.

The first Flag Protection Act was passed by the 90th Congress in 1968 as a response to protests against the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court, however, overturned this decision in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson case by a 5-4 vote, declaring the act as an unconstitutional restriction of public expression. Since then Congress has sought to pass similar legislation every congressional term, always in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Beginning with the 104th Congress, the resolution actually received the two-thirds majority needed to pass in the House of Representatives for five consecutive congressional sessions. Despite this success, flag desecration bills have been attracting fewer and fewer co-sponsors and that of the 110th Congress ultimately died in committee.

Contrastingly the history of this legislation in the upper chamber cannot be characterized with any success or consistency. While these companion resolutions have largely died in committee, S.J.Res.12, one of the fire desecration bills of that term, came short of passing by one vote in the 109th Congress.

Not only are trends among Congress member and OpenCongress user support comparable, debate surrounding these bills also bares similarity to the comments posted on the H.J.Res.47 page. Proponents and opponents generally argue along the dichotomy between protecting a national symbol and protecting free speech.
Indeed this was the tone of Rep.Jo Ann Emerson [R, MO-8], the bill’s sponsor, who stated in a press release that:

The American flag is more than a symbol, especially to the American men and women who have served in uniform, putting their lives at risk for our country with the flag stitched on their sleeves. People who desecrate our flag don’t fully understand, and certainly do not respect, the service of these Americans in defense of our freedoms.

in contrast to Justice Joseph Brennan’s argument against Congress’ 1968 flag protection act stating that

the principal function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute; it may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. (Distressed Patriot)

4. H.R.3022: To restore the second amendment rights of all Americans

Lastly, as the house was getting ready to debate the cap and trade bill on Friday, Rep. Ron Paul [R, TX-14] introduced an old favorite. Unambiguously, this bill seeks to repeal previous restrictions on firearms. Similar to H.J.Res.47, this legislation has experienced recent trending on OpenCongress and repeated attention in Congress. Rep. Paul has introduced identical bills to H.R.3022 since his appointment to the 105th Congress in 1997, all of which have attracted progressively fewer co-sponsors and died while in committee.
His reasons for repeatedly supporting and sponsoring legislation against gun control flows from the argument that:

The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right and, according to the drafters of the Constitution, the guardian of every other right.

See here, too, for more reflections from Rep. Paul regarding the above-mentioned Flag burning legislation.

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