Tuesday, March 10, 2009

First Reading

Understanding Government has a post in praise of the Sunlight Foundation's proposal that no bills should be passed before they have been available for reading for 3 days. It's the sort of good government reform I'm okay with (my lack of enthusiasm is based on cynicism).

Makes me wonder though. If I recall my days of reading the Congressional Record (back in college, when I got seriously lost in doing a term paper amidst the debates on naval building at the turn of the century), parliamentary procedure calls for three "readings" of a bill, once when it's introduced, once when referred to committee, and then upon consideration. (See this link for more precise information.) Problem is, the "readings" are pro forma and are waived. I suspect that practice evolved because people could rely on reading the printed page. And, where time became critical, people just acted on trust. I think now the pattern is--the clerk reads the title of the bill (or amendment) and it's considered read, and GPO inserts the text when the Record is printed.

My point: rules on paper can only go so far in making people use their heads. Cynically, thinking is hard work and people are often lazy. (Until their ox is the one gored [to use a good old agricultural metaphor]).

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