New House rules boost transparency in legislative process

Thursday - 1/6/2011, 3:38pm EST

John Wonderlich, Policy Director, Sunlight Foundation

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New House rules will increase transparency on Capitol Hill, requiring bills be posted online before a vote and setting up a committee for electronic publications.

"What we're hoping is that we've finally seen the last of introducing a bill and no one seeing it an hour before it's voted on on the floor," said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

Under the new rules, committees are required to post copies of bills online at least 24 hours before markups. Also, committees must give a week's notice for hearings and three days' notice for meetings.

"If you really think it's important for members to have accountability on how they vote, the way we get that in this day and age is not to require people to go to a committee office and see how the voting actually happened. Putting information online is really how we make things public," Wonderlich said.

The rules will push committees to standardize how they post hearing notices. It won't happen immediately, he said, but added, "Finally, maybe we're going to get the Holy Grail of committee availability, which is to go to a single place and see all the hearing in the House and Senate. When that happens, it'll be a totally different Congress."

Lawmakers will also now be allowed to use technology on the House floor as long as it "does not impair decorum," Wonderlich said.

What the new rules lack is a requirement to post Congressional Research Service reports online. CRS has used the argument that doing so would impede its ability to share confidential reports with Congress, as well as make itself vulnerable to legal liability, if a report helped a bill pass that ended up harming someone, Wonderlich said.

"I don't have reason to hope that [not requiring CRS reports to be published online] is going to change anytime soon," Wonderlich said.

Read Wonderlich's blog post on the new rules.