Rep. Gary Alexander, a Republican legislator from Washington state, thinks that folks in the legislature there should actually have time to read a budget bill before voting on it. He’s the sponsor of a bill, the Budget Sunshine Act, that would require a five-day waiting period before the House or Senate could vote on the operating, capital, or transportation budgets.
Alexander told the Olympian newspaper that bringing sunlight to the budget process would make the legislators more accountable to the public:
For the most part, the actual budget never sees the light of day before it is brought to the floor for a full vote. The paper is still hot, the ink is still wet and we’re supposed to make a decision on the state’s most important issue? My legislation would allow the public enough time to weigh in with an opinion, and it would allow lawmakers to have more confidence in what they’re voting for or against. While this legislation won’t necessarily help get us out of the current $6 billion budget hole, it would help us shed light on the upcoming budget proposals and the impacts of our decisions. It will help avoid a similar repeat of the problem in future years.
The Olympian editorial thinks Alexander is right and so do we—although why stop at budget bills? The Sunlight Foundation advocates that all legislation should be available for public persual at least 72 hours before consideration by Congress. In the last Congress, another lawmaker from Washington state, Democrat Rep. Brian Baird, introduced legislation that would do exactly that. In the past, Congress has voted on major bills with ride ranging effects without giving adequate time for a public airing, such as legislation granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. Especially now, with the economy imploding and Congress considering bills with higher price tags than we’ve ever seen before, it’s paramount that the process be as open as possible. Three days to read a bill–it’s not that much to ask.