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Letter to Congress: Hold a hearing if you have questions about Reading the Bill

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Yesterday, the Sunlight Foundation and more than 20 organizations and individuals delivered a letter to Speaker of the House Pelosi, Minority Leader Boehner, House Rules Committee Chairwoman Slaughter, and Rules Ranking Member Dreier calling for a Rules Committee hearing to explore the benefits of amending House Rules to require that legislation be posted online for 72 hours prior to consideration.

We believe that it is fundamental to our democratic principles that Members of Congress, their staff, the public and the press have the opportunity to read and digest legislation before it comes to the House floor.

A hearing at this time is appropriate and necessary to move stalled 72-hour rule legislation forward. House and Senate leaders understand the importance of providing online access to legislation and have indicated some willingness to make health care legislation available prior to a vote. Those promises are appreciated, but an ad hoc approach to allowing the public to read the bill is not sufficient. Members of Congress should be governed by a rule that ensures that all legislation is available to the public at specific online locations for a minimum number of hours.

A discharge petition calling for a vote on H. Res. 554, a 72-Rule resolution sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird and John Culberson, garnered 182 signatures, shy of the 218 needed to move the bill to the floor. While it is possible additional members will sign on, progress seems to have slowed in part because some members have raised questions about whether there may be any unforeseen consequences if a 72-hour rule is enacted. A hearing in the Rules Committee is can address those questions and go a long way towards moving this important legislation forward.

Along with the letter calling for a hearing, we delivered a petition with 21,000 signatures of individuals who joined Sunlight’s Read the Bill campaign.  They, too, want Congress post legislation and conference reports on the Internet for 72 hours before debate begins.

Too many important pieces of legislation in this and earlier congresses have been rushed. A 72-hour rule gives the public the opportunity to weigh in with their representatives before debate begins, so that their opinions can be considered and, where appropriate, used to improve bills before they become law. We don’t see a downside to such a rule, but any questions about the impact of a 72-hour rule should be addressed at a hearing. We hope after reading our letter that the leaders in the House and the Rules Committee agree.