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House Introduces Bill to Enact 72 Hour Rule Mandating Online Publication of Legislation Before Debate

Sunlight’s ReadTheBill.org Supporters Instrumental in Pushing Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 18, 2009

Contact: Gabriela Schneider 202/742-1520 ext 236

Washington, DC - Late yesterday, Reps. Baird and Culberson introduced a resolution (H. Res. 554) to require the U.S. House of Representatives to post online all non-emergency legislation 72 hours before debate begins. This resolution will create more transparency of the legislative process by giving lawmakers the time to debate bills with full knowledge and consideration of their implications, while giving citizens time to read legislation and voice their concerns to their congressional delegation. Sunlight posted a copy of the resolution on its site.

The Sunlight Foundation has long advocated for this legislation, and, in 2008, included it as a provision in its model Transparency in Government Act, posted online. Since then, Sunlight has led ReadTheBill.org, a campaign to coalesce support for the 72 hour rule, which has been endorsed by a bipartisan group of individuals and groups, including Newt Gingrich, Joe Trippi, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Federation of American Scientists, National Taxpayers Union and US PIRG. Additionally, ReadTheBill.org has to date garnered 10,000 signatures from citizens, showing broad public support for this transparency measure.

“We commend Reps. Baird and Culberson for demonstrating such strong support for increasing legislative transparency in the House,” said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation. “By making the core activity of the House—the consideration of legislation—more transparent, this rules change would strengthen the public's trust in the institution, improve legislation and trim wasteful spending. When legislation is not available for lawmaker or public review, we end up with special amendments like the Stimulus Bill’s last-minute loophole that allowed AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses at the American taxpayers’ expense. If Congress and citizens alike had 72 hours to read the Stimulus Bill online, someone would have noticed the AIG provision and fixed it before it became law.”

The legislation would give citizens time to read legislation, institutionalizing public scrutiny of bills and enabling citizens to voice their concerns to their congressional delegation before bills are voted on.

Upon introducing the resolution, Rep. Baird said he co-sponsored it to improve congressional accountability by reducing the potential for rushing the passage of legislation, and said: “Members of Congress are routinely asked to make decisions on bills that are sometimes longer than telephone books and only given a few hours to actually read them. That is simply wrong. While this practice was particularly egregious when the Republicans were in control, it’s only gotten slightly better with Democrats in power. The 72 hour rule isn’t about blaming one party or the other. This is about putting a practice in place so that both parties are better able to serve the American people.”

Similarly, co-sponsor Rep. Culberson stressed the importance of opening up the legislative process to ensure better public oversight, stating: “In a little over six months, the liberal majority in Congress has spent over $1.28 trillion, including the largest spending bill in history which the American people had less than 15 hours to review. Never before have so few spent so much in so little time and with so little transparency. The resolution introduced today will enhance public participation in our democracy and help restore the public trust in government by raising the level of openness, order and discourse.”

Rep. Baird introduced a similar resolution (H. Res. 504) in the 110th Congress. Existing rules in the House and Senate are supposed to require a waiting period between the time a bill is reported and consideration, but neither chamber’s current rules provide that the public, too, should have the chance to review legislation. The Baird-Culberson bill would not apply in cases of declarations of war or national emergencies. Ultimately, Sunlight believes that both chambers of Congress should allow for online access to legislation for at least 72 hours before consideration.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency. Visit SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including The Open Senate Project, Capitol Words and OpenCongress.
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