New Transparency in the New House Rules


Now that we’ve seen the final Rules package that the House will pass later today, we can talk about what’s changing with a little more certainty.

Late this summer, we released a detailed set of recommendations for Rules changes, and we’re delighted by how many of those changes will be incorporated into the House Rules.

Final Bill Availability: As Lisa noted yesterday, the public will have a much better chance of being able to read bills before they’re considered on the floor. While House Rules are waivable, and this one is by no means ironclad, we have probably, finally, moved beyond the dispiriting spectacle of voting on bills which haven’t been posted online first.

Sunlight has long been the leading force behind the ReadtheBill movement.

New Committee Responsibility for Electronic Publication: The new Rules give the Committee on House Administration (CHA) responsibility for setting standards for how documents are made available online. This dovetails nicely with the new bill publishing that will now be happening, and it’s heartening that someone will be specifically responsible for how information is posted online. Today’s Rules have a number of first steps, and CHA will have its work cut out for it in working through online publication for the House.

This closely echoes chapter 12 of our 2007 Open House Project report.

Committee Hearing Notice: Sunlight has long called for structured, online advanced notice of committee hearings. The new rules require a week’s notice before hearings, and three days notice before meetings. This notice is required to be “publicly available in electronic form.”

Markup Text: Committees are now required to post copies of legislation to be “publicly available in electronic form” at least 24 hours before markups.

Committee Votes Online: Maybe this perennial fight can now end — the new Rules require committees to post all recorded votes online. This was in the 2007 Open House Project report, and in our recent Rules package.

Committee Amendments Online: Amendments adopted in committee must now be posted online within 24 hours.

New Disclosure for Testimony: Anyone testifying in the House will now not only submit disclosures to the House, but those will be posted online as well. This provision was in our Rules package.

Committee Rules: Committees must now post their committee rules online, another Sunlight recommendation.

Committee Coverage: The House Rules now require committees to broadcast their proceedings, with the caveat that is the phrase “to the maximum extent practicable.” The wording implies both live and archived access to proceedings.

Votes in the Rules Committee: The Rules Committee will no longer enjoy an exemption to the requirement that they put their recorded votes into committee reports. (Another Sunlight recommendation.)

Electronic Devices on the Floor: Electronic devices are now allowed on the House floor, as long as they don’t impair decorum.

Press Treatment: Provisions that singled out specific media organizations or types of media organziations for access to official proceedings have been broadened. (Another Sunlight recommendation.)

Oversight Plans: The House started posting committees’ oversight plans more reliably during the 111th Congress, after our urging, and the 112th House Rules broaden committees’ required activity reports, and also increase their frequency.

Interim Online Posting: Until the House Admin Committee determines a central location, bills will be posted online on the Rules Committee site, or on majority committee sites.

Office of Congressional Ethics: The Office of Congressional Ethics will continue to function in the 112th Congress, as Daniel recently noted, and Sunlight pushed for.

Exercise Facilities: Lobbyists (or former Members married to lobbyists) are now further restricted from the House exercise facilities.