When it comes to the health of American democracy, one of the most important bills to be offered this year, and yet one of the bills you’re least likely to hear about, was introduced to the House of Representatives this week.
I’ve just written about a terrible piece of legislation, Torture Amendment 1157, that allows the government to hide evidence of acts of torture from the American people. As rotten as the legislation was, it would have been very difficult for Americans to urge their senators to vote against the amendment. That’s because the amendment was approved unanimously, on the very same day that it was introduced, before anyone outside the U.S. Senate had the chance to look at what the amendment actually said.
Even if the Senate had waited a day before voting on the amendment, the chances are good that voters wouldn’t have had an opportunity to find the amendment, read it, and call their senators to advise opposition. Often, the Library of Congress doesn’t get bills online for people to read until two or three days after they’ve been introduced. Given that it’s the bills that have the best chance to be passed at all that are dealt with quickly, it’s particularly important that people have the opportunity to find out about new bills as soon as possible.
I predict that, because of its challenge to the power of the leadership of the House of Representatives, a new bill, H. Res. 554, will not be dealt with quickly. Introduced yesterday by U.S. Representative Brian Baird, H. Res. 554 would require that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours, not counting days that Congress is not in session, before being considered by the House of Representatives.
This bill would encourage citizen interaction with U.S. Representatives, and increase general trust in Congress, allowing people to be sure that important laws will not be passed before voters have some chance to make their opinions known. The law would also give members of Congress themselves the time that they need to actually read the legislation that they are being asked to vote upon. With these three extra days of time, we might see more members of Congress engaging in critical consideration, instead of coasting along with what their party’s leadership tells them they ought to do.