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Kratovil: Give members more time to read bills

Ben Pershing

Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) has introduced a bill that would give excessively busy lawmakers what they need the most -- more time.

Kratovil's bill, introduced Thursday, would amend House rules to requre that all bills be available online for at least 72 hours before they are considered, either in committee or on the House floor. (This requirement could be waived by a two-thirds majority of the House.) Proposed amendments to legislation would need to be available for a minimum of 24 hours, and motions to recommit -- which give the minority party the chance to send bills they dislike back to committee -- would need to be online for at least two hours.

"The Congress deals with legislation that could affect our daily lives for generations to come," Kratovil said in a press release. "I do not think it is too much to ask to ensure we have ample to review these bills, study the facts, and determine potential impacts to our constituents before casting our vote."

For the freshman Kratovil, who is locked in a tough reelection race in the Eastern Shore-based 1st district, the bill provides a chance to boost his credentials as an outsider and a reformer.

Kratovil is by no means the first person inside or outside Congress to advance this idea, which has been a longtime goal of reform proponents. The Sunlight Foundation has a Web site, ReadTheBill.org, that includes an online petition urging lawmakers to endorse "the 72-hour rule." Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) introduced a bill last year that would codify that 72-hour requirement, though it does not include the provisions regarding committee action, amendments and motions to recommit that Kratovil's bill does.

Baird's bill has 215 co-sponsors, and Republicans -- eager to push Democratic leaders into a corner -- have introduced a discharge petition that would force the measure onto the House floor for a vote if it is signed by a majority of House members. That petition currently has 182 signatures.

House Democratic leaders have so far shown little desire to enact a rule change that would limit their ability to move bills quickly if necessary (though they did fulfill a pledge to put the health-reform bill online for 72 hours before passage). If such a reform bill has to pass, Kratovil's might be Democrats' most attractive option for two reasons: a) because it could help Kratovil's campaign; and b) because of its requirement for advance publication of motions to recommit.

Republicans have used such motions to complicate Democrats' legislative plans. On Thursday, Democrats abruptly pulled an otherwise uncontroversial science bill after the House approved a GOP motion to recommit that, in addition to shrinking the underlying bill. urged the firing of government employees who watch pornography at work. Kratovil's measure would make it tougher for the minority to spring such surprises on the majority.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 14, 2010; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Ben Pershing  | Tags: District 01, Eastern Shore of Maryland, Frank Kratovil, United States House of Representatives  
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