ReadtheBill.org, Rep. Baird Call for Sunshine in Congress (3/15/06)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 15, 2006

CONTACT:
Rafael DeGennaro (ReadtheBill.org) 202-544-7960, [email protected]
Meghan O’Shaughnessy (Rep. Baird) 202-225-3536, meghan.o’[email protected]
Bernadette Murphy (ALA) 202-628-8410 ext. 8236 [email protected]
Geraldine Henrich (Families USA) 202-628-3030 [email protected]

ReadtheBill.org and Rep. Baird Want Sunshine in Congress,
Urge Passage of “72 Online” Rule by Election Day

Washington, DC – ReadtheBill.org and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) today announced a campaign to persuade Congress to post legislation and conference reports online for 72 hours before floor consideration in Congress. Joined by the American Library Association and the health consumers organization Families USA, they called on Congress to pass a 72 Online rule by Election Day.

Led by the new national organization ReadtheBill.org, the “72 Online” campaign invites non-profit organizations, businesses and prominent individuals to endorse the “72 Online” concept. Other early endorsers include the Alaska Wilderness League, which works to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Friends of the Earth. Organizations can endorse on the web at www.readthebill.org/72online.

Separate from the 72 Online campaign, in January Republican New York Times columnist David Brooks called the concept “the best reform they could do.” The same month, conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt raised the question with the three Republican candidates for House majority leader.

“It’s time to stop passing bills in the dead of night that nobody has read,” said Rafael DeGennaro, Founder and President of ReadtheBill.org. “We invite Americans of every political stripe to join our campaign for 72 hours of sunshine at the Capitol by November. DeGennaro said his organization’s goal was to have 1,000 organizations endorsing the 72 Online concept by July 4.

“All Americans can agree that Congress and the public should have time to read legislation before it comes up for debate. If 72 Online had been the rule in November 2001, Congress would likely have developed a stronger, more balanced PATRIOT Act that drew broader public support,” said Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington, D.C. Office.

The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world, representing more than 65,000 librarians. It has long advocated for increased, free public access to government information.

“The 72 Online concept would restore the public’s opportunity to review the legislation and to express their concerns to Congress before the vote,” said Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA. “It would also make it difficult for members of Congress to hide behind the excuse of not being aware of the contents of a bill before voting on it.”

Families USA is the national organization for health care consumers. It is non-profit and nonpartisan and advocates for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

On Feb. 16, Rep. Baird introduced H.Res. 688, a resolution to modernize and strengthen the existing, but frequently waived, “three-day rule” in the U.S. House of Representatives. That rule requires legislation to be available to members of Congress, but not the public, for three calendar days. The three-day rule is vague, obsolete and routinely waived, according to DeGennaro.

“The three-day rule encourages the insiders game in Washington, D.C. because it says that democracy is for members only,” said DeGennaro. “The new 72-hour rule would use the Internet to power democracy for all. It harnesses thousands of people to read the bills and find the shady provisions.”

DeGennaro said his organization was launching a drive to encourage House members to cosponsor Baird’s legislation. He said he believes that H.Res. 688 can pass the House by Election Day because it is a congressional rules change, not a law, so does not require Senate approval or presidential signature to take effect.

Baird’s resolution would cover both first floor action and final conference reports. It would exempt the same categories of legislation exempted from the three-day rule, such as declarations of war and national emergency. It would also protect classified information.

Posted text would be searchable, and access would be convenient, free and anonymous. The resolution would also close loopholes in the three-day rule, such as bills not reported by any committee, and bills considered in the last six days of the session.

Launched in January 2006, ReadtheBill.org is a politically independent voice for transparent process in government, and neither supports nor opposes policies on their substance. Its flagship effort and laser focus in 2006 is persuading Congress to post legislation and conference reports online for 72 hours before floor consideration. ReadtheBill.org Civic Action is organized under section 501(c)(4).

NOTE: The second annual national Sunshine Week, March 12-18, is an opportunity for newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, websites and others to promote a national dialogue about the importance of open government to the public. For more information about Sunshine Week, visit www.SunshineWeek.org.

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