House to vote on new transparency rules

New rules likely to improve advance notice

The new Republican majority in the House is expected to adopt rules changes today that offer greater transparency, but don't go as far as anticipated. The new rules would also allow lawmakers to carry mobile devices on the House floor.

New Speaker Rep. John Boehner  (R-Ohio) pledged on several occasions last year that Republicans would put all legislation online and available to the public 72 hours before a vote. Republican leaders supported the idea in announcements in December about the upcoming rules changes.

However, the rules language approved on Jan. 4 by the House Republican Conference and set for a vote today does not include a provision to post all bills online 72 hours before a vote.


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Instead, the GOP-approved rules to be voted on would require that unreported legislation be made available to House members and delegates at least three calendar days before consideration.

Transparency advocates say the modified language of the proposed rules is likely to provide nearly as much transparency as the language that would require posting of bills online, although not directly or explicitly.

“It certainly is going to increase transparency,” said John Wonderlich, policy director of the Sunlight Foundation. “It does not say the bills will go online for the public, but if the bills go to the minority members for three days, it is hard to imagine they would not be placed online.”

A key aspect of the new rules provision states that bills would be considered “out of order” if brought up for consideration before the three days expire, Wonderlich added. Under longstanding rules of debate, it is very difficult to overcome such a point of order, he said, which serves to help enforce the three-day rule. However, Wonderlich also noted in his blog today that the three-day notice provision is “waivable” and “not iron-clad.”

The new provision adds to what had been done in the previous Congress. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voluntarily posted many pieces of major legislation online three days in advance of a vote on a regular basis, including the health reform bill. Boehner said his goal was to expand that to cover all legislation.

The House routinely adopts new rules when convening every two years. Included in today’s package is a measure that would allow electronic devices on the House floor, as long as they don't impair decorum.

The rules up for a vote today also include other transparency measures. “We're delighted by how many of those changes will be incorporated into the House rules,” Wonderlich posted on Sunlight’s blog today.

The changes include:

  • The House Administration Committee would have responsibility for setting standards for how documents are made available online.
  • House committees would have to provide a week’s electronic notice to the public before hearings and three days notice before meetings.
  • House committees would make legislation publicly available in electronic form at least 24 hours before being written up in final form during a committee markup meeting.
  • House committees would be required to post all recorded votes online. Amendments adopted in committee would have to be posted online in 24 hours.
  • House committees would broadcast their proceedings "to the maximum extent practicable."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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