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Fixing the 'Read the Bill' Rule

April 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

During the midterm campaigns, Republicans promised that if they took over the House they would end the practice of rushing legislation by requiring all bills to be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be voted on. However, when it came time for them to actually set the rules of the House, the 72-hour rule was changed to a three-calendar-day rule, which meant that a bill could be rushed to a vote after as little as 24 hours and 1 minute of public availability. This three-calendar-day rule has already been used three times this session to rush controversial bills to votes without an adequate period of public review.

Some Democrats are trying to amend the rule to restore its original intent. Rep. Gary Peters [D, MI-9] has introduced H.Res.230, which would provide that “the House may not consider any reported bill until at least 72 hours after it is reported.” The bill would require all bills to be available to “Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner for 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day).” Preferably, the bill would also require 72 hours of availability to the public, according to opengovdata principles, to avoid situations where documents are passed around the Hill first and wind up being online for fewer than 72 hours before votes. But rescuing the “read the bill” ethos from the cheap three calendar day rule would be a positive step. Pair that with the Public Online Information Act and people outside of Congress can be reasonably sure that they’ll be able to review legislation and contact their lawmakers before votes happen.

(h/t Sunlight Foundation)

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