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Four Amendments and a Funeral musings

Finished reading "Four Amendments and a Funeral" ( http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/_/id/7539869 ), the excellent look at the sausagemaking of the U.S. Congress, and something struck me that seems so simple and obvious that I know I'm being either really stupid or really smart (I'm not going to say which one it normally turns out to be).

One of the major "process" problems is that huge pieces of law just kinda slip under the radar. The article points out how the Rules Committee regularly bypasses the three-day waiting period for laws being sent to the House (which is only supposed to be done in case of emergency). This makes it very difficult for potential opponents to research it or prepare a response... or even really prepare a vote.

So why don't House rules just require someone to verbally read the entirety of the bill before the vote is taken? Isn't that the obvious solution to a large part of this? It would have the twofold advantage of making sure that House members can't claim they didn't know the tenets of the bill, *and* it would encourage bill sponsors (who will have to sit through the reading, or perhaps even perform it) to write simpler and more straightforward text.

Think of how many debate points you could come up with in the time it would take for someone to read the entire treatise of the USA PATRIOT Act... just look how tiny your scrollbar widget gets!
http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html

Any thoughts? And keep in mind, when I ask why this isn't already there, I don't mean the cynical answer that "it would keep the powerful people from using dirty tricks". What I'm really asking for is what those people would say if it came up in a debate; how is it defensible.
Permalink Tail of the "g" 
August 14th, 2005
If laws were crafted in plain language, what would all the lawyers do?
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 14th, 2005
You could force somebody to read the whole thing aloud, but you can't force a single legislator to listen (let alone understand).
Permalink Stephen Jones 
August 14th, 2005
"If laws were crafted in plain language, what would all the lawyers do?"

Make a ton of money as people argued over the meanings of every single word.

Philo
Permalink Philo 
August 14th, 2005
Stephen: you can't force them to listen, but at least they couldn't claim ignorance later. If they voted on a bill without listening to it, we can definitely hold them accountable.
Permalink Tail of the "g" 
August 14th, 2005
Yeah, what Philo said.

People created programming languages because no human language was sufficiently un-ambiguous to be machine parsable.

The desire to use "plain language", while admirable, is not practical. Shoot, we have enough trouble with people trying to interpret the 'plain language' of the Bible, after having tried and written interpretations for centuries.

Shoot, we have enough trouble over people interpreting the 'plain language' of the Constitution, and coming to different answers.
Permalink AllanL5 
August 14th, 2005
Allan: I agree completely. I'm not arguing that reading the whole bill will make sure everyone understands it perfectly. Just that it would at least provide the opportunity to recognize clear falsehoods or logical flaws. The subtler things will still be a problem but no *worse* a problem than they are now.
Permalink Tail of the "g" 
August 14th, 2005
Interesting. It would appear the major advantage in the idea of requiring a bill to be actually read in its final form before being submitted to vote is to allow those voting some idea of what is actually contained in all those words let alone "clear falsehoods and logical flaws".

If a "Bill to Enable Better Sandwich Making in Tuckshops" contained riders for oil depletion allowances and surveillance cameras in bookstores, you'd wonder if such pranks would be apprehended under the system as described in the article.
Permalink trollop 
August 14th, 2005
Every bill is delivered to every Congressman before a vote.

The only thing that having it read into the record would accomplish would be to provide more time for the member to read it; but that could be accomplished with a simple requirement that there must be at least seven days between any bill being introduced and it being brought for a vote.

And the whole "emergency bill" thing is nonsense. The Federal Government does not operate at "emergency" speeds. The only thing an "emergency bill" can presage is that it's a bad idea.

Philo
Permalink Philo 
August 14th, 2005
I find the terms "lawmakers" and "bombmakers" quite interchangable. From todays news articles (someone needs to write a greasemonkey script to do this automatically):

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ISN SECURITY WATCH (15 August:) - Two top US bombmakers on Sunday called for more US troops to be sent to Iraq, but the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said such a move was “very unlikely”, NBC news reported...

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SPANISH FORK -- Utah bombmakers -- some past and some present -- are benefiting from the state's booming charter school business,...

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Bombmakers will tour potential Green River dam sites

JACKSON (AP) -- A group of state bombmakers will tour potential sites for dams on the upper Green River later this month.

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09/08/2005 - 20:31:34 -- A slick two-hour al-Qaida propaganda “documentary” shows a multiethnic group of insurgents in Afghanistan... In another scene, a group of lawmakers slice white bricks of plastic explosive, packing it into empty cooking oil cans along with heavy steel bolts and gobs of glue.

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Times Online, UK - Aug 3, 2005
... used home-made explosives but not whether the chemicals are exactly the same. Scientists believe that there may be two lawmakers.
Permalink thompson_gunner 
August 15th, 2005

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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