Once again there is movement afoot for Congress to pass a measure that would require legislation to be online for 72 hours before debate begins. Minority Leader Boehner is urging Members to sign a discharge petition that would bring H. Res. 544, the “Read the Bill bill” Sunlight has long supported, to the House floor for a vote. Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), John Culberson (R-TX) and Brian Baird (D-WA) originally filed the discharge petition in September.
Since then, there has been growing acceptance of the need to expose legislation to sunlight for 72 hours before voting on it, and Speaker Pelosi can be credited for slowing the process down on important pieces of legislation, including heath care and financial reform.
Still, voluntary assurances that bills will be online hardly give us reason to be confident that every piece of important legislation will be available for the public to read and respond to before debate begins. As the end of the Congress approaches there is an even greater risk that “must do” bills will be rushed to a vote. With that comes more opportunity for wasteful government spending, poorly thought out legislative provisions and hidden favors for influential lobbyists.
H. Res. 554 would help ensure that rushed bills become a thing of the past. A discharge petition may be the only way this bill comes to the floor for a vote, and if that is the case, we will gladly watch the bill become law. But a more thoughtful and deliberative method of getting a vote on this bill would be preferable. After all, one point of H. Res. 554 is to ensure there is time for legislation to be improved. It would be more than a little ironic if Read the Bill legislation could be made better after full consideration, including hearings and markup, in committee, but instead bypassed that process as a result of the discharge petition. Still, the discharge the petition serves a reminder that giving the public the opportunity to read the bill should be the norm, not the exception.