SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS -- “72 Online” resolution
H. Res. 688, introduced Feb. 16, 2006
Sponsor: Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA)
“To require that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours before consideration by the House, and for other purposes.“
RESOLUTION, NOT BILL
Note that H. Res. 688 is not a bill that needs to be signed into law by the President. Rather, H. Res. 688 is a resolution amending the standing Rules of the House. To come into effect, it need only be approved by the House of Representatives.
Modernize congressional operations; control the size and cost of government; improve the quality of legislation; enhance public participation in democracy; and help restore respect for Congress.
BASIC REQUIREMENT: 72 ONLINE RULE
The House may not consider on the floor any measure or conference report unless it has been made available to the Members and general public on the Internet for 72 hours.
WAIVERS BY TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY
The 72 hour rule (for bills or conference reports) could be waived by a two-thirds majority of members voting. For extra protection, the two-thirds requirement could only be waived by a two-thirds vote.
WHO CAN READ THE LEGISLATION
The members of Congress and the “general public”. Current rules officially require legislation to be available only to “Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico”, and conference reports are supposed to be available in the Congressional Record.
LEGISLATION COVERED (no change from House rules)
The exact same legislation (any “measure or matter” or a “conference report”) as is covered under the existing “three-day rule” in the House. This includes measures such as regular bills, appropriations bills, tax bills, conference reports, etc.
LEGISLATION EXCLUDED (no change from House rules)
The exact same items as are excluded under the existing “three-day rule” in the House:
*Declarations of War or National Emergency by Congress
*Resolutions reported by the House Rules Committee “providing a rule, joint rule or order of business” (these housekeeping matters prescribe how substantive legislation will be debated).
*Legislative veto resolutions to disapprove federal agency action (rarely used).
*House Administration Committee spending resolutions for the operations of the House.
*Resolutions presenting a question of the privileges of the House reported by any committee.
MINIMUM TIME AVAILABLE
72 hours (instead of three calendar days), with the exact same exclusions as apply under the current rules: weekends and holidays except when the House is in session on such days.
72 hours would also apply to conference reports. Currently, the text of conference reports are supposed to be available in the Congressional Record for three days, and copies are supposed to be available to members for two hours before consideration.
WHAT IS AVAILABLE
The “full and official” text of the legislation and each committee report. For conference reports, the full and official text and the “signed” version of the accompanying joint explanatory statement. No placeholders would be allowed – texts must be posted without amendment for 72 hours. Current rules and practice seem to permit making available changing texts and conference reports that are not fully signed.
HOW DOCUMENTS ARE POSTED
Documents should be posted on the Internet “in a manner that they are conveniently accessible, anonymously and at no cost, in a format that can be searched by text.” Currently, appropriations bills are often posted online in the form of PDFs that are not searchable by text, so the reader has to manually hunt through 500 pages for any mention of a particular city or state.
CLOSE THE “SNEAK ATTACK” LOOPHOLE
The 72 hour rule would also apply to legislation that had never been reported by any committee. Currently, such legislation is excluded from the three-day rule, creating an incentive for hasty bills that make end runs around committees.
REPEAL THE “LAST 6 DAYS” LOOPHOLE -- RULES APPLY AT END OF SESSION
An obsolete House rule provides that the three-day rule for conference reports is waived in the “last six days” of a congressional session. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service* says this exception is “difficult to implement” because modern practice is not to set the end of the session until the last minute. However, the existence of last six days rule creates the expectation that anything goes at the end of the session, which is when the worst abuses occur. Therefore, the obsolete last six days loophole would be repealed to create the expectation that the 72 hour rule would apply through the last day of the session.
EXPLICIT EXCLUSION FOR CLASSIFIED INFORMATION
The resolution should not be interpreted to require or permit the declassification or posting on the Internet of classified information, which should be made available to Members under existing laws and rules.
SENSE OF THE HOUSE REGARDING MAJOR AMENDMENTS
To prevent circumvention of the 72 hour rule, the resolution expresses the sense of the House that the Rules Committee should develop policies and procedures to require that proposed amendments (except those offered under an open rule) that are major in size, scope or cost be posted on the Internet for an appropriate number of hours.
*CRS Report RS22015 (Jan. 10, 2005), p. 2. For this point, CRS cites Brown & Johnson, “House Practice,” (GPO, 2003), p. 354.
This summary prepared by ReadtheBill.org