H.Res. 504 — Summary of Provisions

H.Res.504
Introduced by Rep. Brian Baird on June 20, 2007
Establishes the “72 Hours Online” rule in the House

Link to official info and text of resolution

TITLE
“To require that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours before consideration by the House, and for other purposes.“

A RESOLUTION, NOT A BILL
Note that H.Res. 504 is not a bill that needs to be signed into law by the President. Rather, H.Res. 504 is a resolution amending the standing Rules of the House. To come into effect, it need only be approved by the House of Representatives.

PURPOSE
Modernize congressional operations; control the size and cost of government; improve the quality of legislation; enhance public participation in democracy; help restore trust in and respect for Congress.

BASIC REQUIREMENT: 72 HOURS ONLINE RULE
The House may not begin consideration 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 hourS rule (for bills or conference reports) could be waived by a two-thirds majority of members voting. (Note: House rules allow a two-step process under which even this 2/3 requirement may be waived by a simple majority.)

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 & CONFERENCE REPORTS COVERED (no change from House rules)
Coverage is exactly the same as under the existing “three-day rule” in the House:
Bills – Covered are any “measure or matter” (such as as regular bills, appropriations bills, tax bills) with a limited list of exclusions (see below).
Conference reports – As under current rules, all conference reports are covered.

LEGISLATION EXCLUDED (no change from House rules)
Excluded are the exact same items as 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 procedural “rules” prescribe how substantive legislation will be debated).
*Legislative veto resolutions to disapprove federal agency action (rarely used).
*House Administration Committee spending resolutions for internal 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 is 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 text” of the legislation and each committee report. For conference reports, the full 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.

HOW DOCUMENTS ARE POSTED
Documents should be posted on the Internet “in such a manner that they are conveniently accessible using existing technology, anonymously and at no cost, in a format that is searchable by text.” Bills are sometimes posted online in the form of PDFs that are not searchable by text, so the reader has to manually scan 500 pages for any mention of their interest.

CLOSE THE LOOPHOLE FOR UNREPORTED LEGISLATION
The 72 hours rule would also apply to legislation that had never been reported by any committee.

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 last six days rule is “difficult to implement” because in modern practice, the end of the session is not set until the final hours. However, the existence of the 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 clarify the intention that the 72 hours rule would apply through the final day of the session.

EXPLICIT PROTECTION OF 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 hours 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.

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Revised June 25, 2007