Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Im in ur congress, monitoring changes to ur legislation
March 7, 2007 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Slashdot poster has brilliant legislative reform idea: "Source Control for Bills in Congress." What if sneaky changes to pending legislation showed up as soon as they were made instead of in ominously worded media reports months later?
posted by grobstein (62 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry the Times links are behind the Select wall. Here's a relevant snip from the first one (which is dated February 19):
The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. [emph. added]
posted by grobstein at 7:23 AM on March 7, 2007


omg first use of 'batshitsane' tag
posted by grobstein at 7:24 AM on March 7, 2007


PS the slashdot thread is good as well
posted by grobstein at 7:26 AM on March 7, 2007


This not exactly a new idea. People were discussing it before the election with regards to earmark issues.
posted by delmoi at 7:29 AM on March 7, 2007


That would kickass, but bring congress under way more pressure and scrutiny, so they'd never go for it. They like being able to squeak stuff into bills.
posted by mathowie at 7:30 AM on March 7, 2007


Yeah, I was about to say: Having the media only notice months later is a feature, not a bug, for Congress.
posted by klangklangston at 7:40 AM on March 7, 2007


Begin "subversion" jokes now...
posted by Pastabagel at 7:49 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


cvsup house-supfile

I like it.

Of course, that first sync is going to hurt.
posted by eriko at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2007


In fact, they have something like this now, called THOMAS:

Here's an example with the Patriot Act reauthorization
posted by Pastabagel at 7:55 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brilliant? Who will have access to the repository, CSPAN?
posted by four panels at 7:56 AM on March 7, 2007


It's interesting, but not pragmatic, because it incorrectly assumes that Congress itself wants to be uncorrupt but just can't figure out how to do it.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:03 AM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


This would be great.

And something else that would be great, something abandoned in recent years of rePublican control, is letting everyone actually read bills before voting on them. Great concept, huh?
posted by nofundy at 8:04 AM on March 7, 2007


Most likely the change was published, but no one bothered to check to make sure they didn't slip anything in there.

The whole US Attorneys thing is really some bullshit. A tiny little addition to a bill in confrence comitte that had already been passed in the house and senate. Why should you be able to change bills after they've been passed.

And it's lead to a pretty major scandal. This isn't a problem with bill tracking, it's a problem with the horribly run republican congress.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 AM on March 7, 2007


Why should you be able to change bills after they've been passed.

Because the bills in the House and the Senate aren't usually the same to begin with, so when they pass, they have to be reconciled in a conference committee. Of course, now you see how there's incentive not to make the house and senate bills the same - so they can go to conference committee and get changed.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:08 AM on March 7, 2007


Most likely the change was published, but no one bothered to check to make sure they didn't slip anything in there.
Exactly. All changes are published, but interested parties then have to pore through the sometimes thousands of pages of text to find what was changed.
A tiny little addition to a bill in confrence comitte that had already been passed in the house and senate. Why should you be able to change bills after they've been passed.
That's what conference committees do. They convene when the House and Senate have passed different versions of a bill. The committee then comes up with a compromise version. The abuse of this system occurs when many new provisions are added, things that weren't in either the House- or Senate-passed versions. That's where the nice , juicy pork gets put in. Each chamber then has to approve those changes.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:13 AM on March 7, 2007


It is a problem with Bill tracking - at the end of everything you still have to check everything back in, with your slimy stinky Congress-critter fingerprints over all of the rancid pork you inserted. Then the bright lights in the MSM can peruse at will to create as much confusion and scandal as they can.
posted by sfts2 at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2007


Pastabagel:
Where in THOMAS can we find Specter's or O'Neill's fingerprints?
posted by MtDewd at 8:27 AM on March 7, 2007


I think its a fantastic idea. It's so brilliant and obvious an idea that I'm stunned that no one has suggested it before. It also makes me think that I'm missing problems with it.

I think there are probably legal issues with it. And how do you square it with parliamentary procedures and rules for putting things in the record? How would it impact the way the Supreme Court interprets laws (as they rely on the Congressional Record at times).

Also, I think a great deal of the language in bills is compromise language hammered out in groups, so how would you credit them? Would it just be whichever staffer decided to enter the changes after the meeting?

I also think that even if they implemented it, there would be ways around it. Would you make a rule that before anything can be entered into the bill that some congressman has to take credit for writing it?

And ultimately, doesn't this seem to take responsibility off of the people who VOTE for the bill? Because no matter who wrote what part of the bill, it doesn't mean anything until somebody votes for it, and you can't say to your constituents -- don't look at me, I just voted for the damn thing, Spector wrote the part about banning Harry Potter from schools!
posted by empath at 8:35 AM on March 7, 2007


What makes you believe you could ever get a politician to commit?
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on March 7, 2007


You're assuming you can identify the sneaky changes.
posted by smackfu at 8:43 AM on March 7, 2007


I run a website to track legislation in the Virginia General Assembly and I added this to my issues tracking database as soon as I read it on /. last night. At least in Virginia (I can't speak for federal legislation), every modification to the text of a bill is published on the General Assembly's website. Better still, the GA's technical staff publishes the bills as SGML, providing daily diffs for the purpose of synching up the data without redownloading the text of every bill. So I'll just use that SGML to calculate the diffs. With a clever bit of JavaScript (like a little slidey bar), I think it can be made obvious to people what has changed in each revision of a bill.

Couldn't somebody do this with federal legislation as well, even just by screenscraping bill text and running it through diff?
posted by waldo at 8:48 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


And ultimately, doesn't this seem to take responsibility off of the people who VOTE for the bill? Because no matter who wrote what part of the bill, it doesn't mean anything until somebody votes for it, and you can't say to your constituents -- don't look at me, I just voted for the damn thing, Spector wrote the part about banning Harry Potter from schools!
Ding Ding Ding! The conference report with the inserted language was published on 12/08/2005. The final House vote was on 12/14, but the Senate didn't pass it until 3/02/06. The damned table of contents for the report includes the item SEC. 502. INTERIM APPOINTMENT OF UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS. Any ignorance of the provision is caused only by failure to read the text.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:49 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the point of this to have a "diff" type feature, where any changes are highlighted? The other issue brought up, and I thought the general idea is interesting, was the question of omnibus bills and how to get rid of it.

The fun one was "insert sneaky language barring omnibus bills into future legislation" when it's passed... BINGO! No more omnibus bills.

The other was a link to downsizedc (which, admittedly is WAY to Libertarian for my tastes, however on this topic, I am in 100% agreement). The basic idea is to make them accountable for not reading the text of legislation under penalty of perjury. If they pass a bill and wanna say "I dunno how that got in there" well, did you or did you not read it? If not, then you lied under oath.

Something like that.

Of course, yeah, honesty of politicians... hahaha. That's not likely to happen. But still, I think a combination of 1) reducing/eliminating omnibus bills and 2) this "diff"/source revision control setup is a step in the right direction.
posted by symbioid at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2007


The only solution is a major overhaul of the Congressional branch. We should return to the time when Senators were appointed by their State.

The Governor appoints both Senators (maybe only from a pool of currently elected state officials, this will allow for some form of voter oversite) at the beginning of his/her first term.

They can only be recalled by a 2/3rds vote in the State's Congressional branch or upon election of a new governor.

I believe this would need to be changed at the state level and would not need any federal approval.
posted by Mick at 8:52 AM on March 7, 2007


I don't think "omnibus bills" means what you think it means. There are plenty of last-minute pork insertions in standard appropriations bills.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:54 AM on March 7, 2007


It's not that omnibus==pork, but rather, that it's much easier to sneak shit into omnibus bills. They are large and unwieldy, and alas, harder to manage properly. There should, IMO, be a clear delineation in each bill as to what is in it and it should focus on one topic. The leeway should be small (because of course, you can easily connect shit to anything using 7 degrees of separation)...

Yeah, pork is a problem in regular bills, but working on reducing the scope of bills is certainly a laudable goal, no? And it does relate in a way to this source control issue. Forcing senators to read a bill becomes easier when they don't pile shit into it. I think that's the main point. But again, I think the main point of this post is an excellent idea, and kudos to waldo for implementing something like that for Georgia (albeit in a private/watchdog capacity)
posted by symbioid at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2007


On further reflection, it appears I'm advocating for a *nix style gov't. Each bill do one thing and do it well (as unix tools tend to be), as opposed to the MS style of a huge architecture of unwieldy code. Since we're going with computer analogies.
posted by symbioid at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2007


How about simply making it illegal for anyone holding a government office to insert anything into a bill w/o bringing it to the attention of the committee chair-person or any party (s) impacted by the provision?
posted by Skygazer at 9:13 AM on March 7, 2007


Source control? I've been saying for years now that they should just use a wiki. The problem is that lawyers and government bureaucrats are among the last people on earth to partake of new technologies.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:14 AM on March 7, 2007


Yes, you're probably correct, symbioid. Making appropriations bills smaller and less complex would likely make it easier to pick out small changes. I don't think that would've helped in the case of the Patriot Act reauthorization, though; by congressional standards, it wasn't even that huge.

A question for those who have access to the Times article--are they, in fact, referring to the Patriot Act reauthorization? grobstein's quote mentions something signed into law in October, but the Patriot Act reauthorization was signed in March '06.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2007


this is the first time i've ever heard the words "slashdot" and "brilliant" in the same sentence.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2007


This idea is so simple and achievable. I'm particularly excited by waldo's comment up above that he thinks he can do this himself with the Virginia published records.
posted by Nelson at 9:28 AM on March 7, 2007


grobsein: The first NYT editorial is here. If you have the original (non-TimesSelect) URL of the second article, you can generate a permanent free link using the NYT Link Generator. If you know the headline or have any text from the article, you can often find an original link with Google.
posted by metaplectic at 10:24 AM on March 7, 2007



The NYT editorials from grobstein's FPP:

Making Martial Law Easier

American Liberty at the Precipice
posted by metaplectic at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2007


I would love to see "source control" for law.

But not for alerts.

I'd like to see historical data on the corpus of our law. Stuff I'd like to see: "What percentage of all laws were passed predominantly by Democrats/Republicans?", "Who is responsible for this paragraph of law?"
posted by jpf at 1:25 PM on March 7, 2007


This is a great idea. Some European government will probably implement it. America, err, not so much.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:47 PM on March 7, 2007


This is pretty common in other parliaments in the world. For example, Slovakia's parliament's website gives detailed, real-time reports at every stage of the legislative process in real-time.

Several US state legislatures are also pretty good, according to this NCSL website, which reports:

Every state offers free public access to bill status and/or bill text via the Internet. However, a number of states offer additional bill tracking features on legislative websites. The user identifies bills he or she is interested in tracking, provides an e-mail address, and then receives an e-mail notification whenever any action is reported on the bill. At least 19 states offer this type of free e-mail subscription service. Other states provide for bill tracking through the creation of personalized lists, but do not provide e-mail updates. Some states also offer enhanced bill tracking information for a fee–providing either more detailed information or real-time updates, in addition to free tracking. In addition to bill tracking services, several states provide e-mail notifications of other types of legislative information. And a growing number of states are providing updates via RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary), a service that alerts users to new content on the web, such as committee notices, new actions on bills or news updates.

So I guess its not that hard. Is it possible that our US Congress doesn't want that kind of transparency???
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:58 PM on March 7, 2007


God save us from the nerds. This is not a technical problem. This is a human problem. Throwing technical solutions at it might make the nerds feel good, but it won't solve the problem. Greedy, power hungry people will find another way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2007


This inspired me to see what was available in the UK. It turns out that the Parliament website has a pretty awesome depth of resource on it. Each bill has its own page (e.g.) from which you can access the original, every amendment, every debate about changes, the original guidance notes from the proposer and any research that has been done on it. Unfortunately, you can't subscribe to updates for specific individual items of legislation but you can get emails whenever there's a change to the status of any legislation.
posted by patricio at 2:31 PM on March 7, 2007


The only solution is a major overhaul of the Congressional branch. We should return to the time when Senators were appointed by their State.

I believe this is called a non sequitur.
posted by adoarns at 2:46 PM on March 7, 2007


On THOMAS you can in fact see a legislative history. Bills have their own pages and links to the text of amendments as published in the Congressional Record. It's just a bit messy. The amendments are listed with description only; the text is in the CR, which is available, but you have to delve and see what the amendment's actually for; and since they're broken up over many pages, full-text searches are ugly.
posted by adoarns at 2:56 PM on March 7, 2007


/home/dave>cvs log hr-5125

RCS file: /usr/local/cvs/hr-5125,v
Working file: hr-5125
head: 1.2
branch:
locks: strict
access list:
keyword substitution: b

total revisions: 6; selected revisions: 6
description:
----------------------------
revision 1.6
date: 2007/01/29 22:36:35; author: prez; state: Exp; lines: +25 -0
signing statement
----------------------------
revision 1.5
date: 2007/01/29 21:05:01; author: dcheney; state: Exp; lines: +356 -0
procedural changes re contractor bids
----------------------------
revision 1.4
date: 2007/01/27 10:24:19; author: dissa; state: Exp; lines: +71 -14
repeal habeus corpus for naturalized citizens
----------------------------
revision 1.3
date: 2007/01/27 08:11:40; author: tstevens; state: Exp; lines: +48 -2
added funds for Ketchikan beltway
----------------------------
revision 1.2
date: 2007/01/24 15:53:16; author: rboucher; state: Exp; lines: +20 -12
thru committee
----------------------------
revision 1.1
date: 2007/01/15 18:16:23; author: rboucher; state: Exp;
usps can't sell personal info frm chg of addr forms
=============================================================================
posted by kurumi at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


I have a master plan for getting version control software to our Senate. It relies on the assumption that they'll vote and sign into law any bill with the words "Bug" or "Tracking" in the header.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:16 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe if we can actually get real senators names attached to the addendums, we could make some real headway. There was recently bill that would make public all the recipients of pork barrel legislation, with the names of the representatives that proposed the pork to begin with. This bill was put on hold by a secret senator, because apparently that's legal. Fed up with this fucking horseshit, the folks at Pork Busters decided to find out just who the slimy scum-sucking piece of shit was, and were successful (Byrd and Stevens both put holds on it, with Byrd capitulating after he'd been found out).

That's what I want to see: actual accountability. So-and-so proposes that These Dudes, Inc. get a contract to build Widgets for $billions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:33 PM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Greedy, power hungry people will find another way."

Sure. But it's good to slow them up. It is good to hold evil at bay even if you can't vanquish it.

The sneaky rider, poison pill phenomena are together some of the most puzzling aspects of US goverment to the outsider. The first time I heard about them I couldn't believe it, and assumed I had misunderstood.

And actually, maybe greedy, power hungry people will not find another way. In my country the legislative process is far more transparent, and has actually improved over the years.

waldo's idea seems very sound. It seems as though it would help build pressure for reform inside the system.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:48 PM on March 7, 2007


As adoarns points out, THOMAS has just about everything other national legislatures have, and it has had it for longer, in most (if not all) cases. Bill status data appears within an hour of the action, in most cases, and the data on a bill includes links to all floor debates on the subject (via the Congressional Record). They have every version of every bill back through 1989, and data about bills (summary, status, and other info) back through 1973.

Full-text searches can, indeed, be ugly, and the information is often distributed among different databases, so it canot be searched all at once. That's about to change, though; the THOMAS homepage has a link to the beta version of a new search-and-retrieval system.

Also, if you ever have any questions about the system, the Law Library answers all research questions, no matter how obscure. And I hear tell that the guy who answers their error reports is awesome.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:49 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is the first step towards getting rid of trick rider bills. First, the transparency, then the accountability. No more sneaky "Music is work for hire" attempts. Hell, with a reasonable feed, one could search recent changes for items of interest, so, rather than tracking specific bills, you can instead learn when Hollywood wants to slip some kind of extension to the Patriot Act in on a Homeland Security budget.
posted by adipocere at 4:16 PM on March 7, 2007


article 4 - 27 of michigan's constitution

No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title. No bill shall be altered or amended on its passage through either house so as to change its original purpose as determined by its total content and not alone by its title.

that is what we need for congress ... yes, it would drastically cut down the number of bills and decisions made ... yes, that's a GOOD thing
posted by pyramid termite at 4:19 PM on March 7, 2007


Yeah, if only the whole country could be as well-governed as Michigan. That'd be awesome.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:33 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


just because michigan has problems doesn't mean that this clause in its constitution is responsible

try responding logically, will you?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:44 PM on March 7, 2007


However, Michigan is evidence that such clauses don't do anything in particular to encourage good government.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:06 PM on March 7, 2007


This isn't a problem with bill tracking, it's a problem with the horribly run republican congress.

And as long as we keep on dividing into TWO camps each thinking our party is more righteous than the other, ALL of these evil bastards will just keep on doing what they're doing. Get real; we're getting screwed by BOTH sides.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:29 PM on March 7, 2007


irrelevant and pointless ... the question is whether it would create better government ... and your content-free snarking doesn't even attempt to answer it
posted by pyramid termite at 6:34 PM on March 7, 2007


Did it create better government in Michigan? If so, Michigan should have obviously better government than other states, or the federal government. As far as I know, this is not the case.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:47 PM on March 7, 2007


MrMoonPie: I haven't seen the new UI, but I've used the old (current) THOMAS quite a bit. Information is good, but without a decent interface (and THOMAS' is utter shite), it may as well not exist.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:55 PM on March 7, 2007


Did it create better government in Michigan? If so, Michigan should have obviously better government than other states, or the federal government.

wrong question - does it create better government in michigan than michigan would have otherwise? ... would it create better government in other states or the federal government than it would otherwise?

As far as I know, this is not the case.

you aren't going to know anything unless you learn how to ask the right questions and answer them

now unless you can give me a reply that actually touches upon the subject at hand, "would single subject bills improve our government?", i'm through with you

ps what the hell would have you said if i hadn't mentioned this was from michigan's constitution?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:57 PM on March 7, 2007


wrong question - does it create better government in michigan than michigan would have otherwise?

Yes, you're correct. But unless you're willing to posit that Michigan is such an inherent clusterfuck that even a substantial improvement only brings it back up to somewhere around the lower regions of normal, it should still show up better than the feds, and it doesn't along any axis I know of. At the very least, states with such provisions (most, but I can't recall the exact number) should in some measurable way do better than ones that don't. There are some strong reasons to there won't be any observable effect.

At base, it's a fairly silly requirement. It assumes that vote trades are bad, and that we should only be passing bills that command a natural, no-deals-needed majority of the legislature. But this is daft, because we already did all of that easy stuff a long time ago. The only times you'll see a bill of any significance enjoy an uncoerced majority of a legislature is when they're correcting an obvious, glaring fuckup. Ie, when California banned necrophilia in 2004 because they realized that they'd forgotten to ban it before. Lots of important, meaningful, good legislation passes only with a coterie of deals being made because, having done all the easy shit like banning murder, we're left with difficult, complex legislation that tends to directly pit the interests of different groups of citizens against each other in complex, multidimensional ways. Legislating is hard. What little common ground that exists in spread-out, correlated issue hyperspaces is not easy to locate, and the messy process of legislation and logrolling is part of what finds it.

And it doesn't work out how you think. In practice, even in states that have a single-subject provision, courts are very reluctant to step into that morass and generally use any means possible to avoid the cases. At the same time, whether a bill contains one broad subject or several narrower subjects is a matter of perspective and debate. What this means is that when these cases do make it to court, it's largely going to be a matter of which side has the best, most persuasive lawyers. Who do you think that's going to be: large corporations who don't like new regulations that just went into effect, or whoever was willin to accept a subpar salary to serve as legislative counsel? So anyway, in most places that use it, it isn't really observed very closely, and even when courts do rule things out, they do so in part because of the strategic choices of major economic and social actors in the state.

If you really want, I can get some relevant data out of the Book of the States and some recent legislative surveys I have lying around and, in all probability, show you that single-subject provisions are uncorrelated with measures of legislative attitudes and work patterns. Alternatively, and this would be my strong preference, I could send you the relevant data and you could crunch it yourself, because I really have better things to do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 PM on March 7, 2007


But unless you're willing to posit that Michigan is such an inherent clusterfuck that even a substantial improvement only brings it back up to somewhere around the lower regions of normal,

actually i will posit that ... we're not in good shape ... some of that is due to a poor economic outlook, some of that is due to a constantly divided government

At the very least, states with such provisions (most, but I can't recall the exact number) should in some measurable way do better than ones that don't.

they will have more understandable, accessable and trackable legislation ... or doesn't having an unconfused public count as doing "better"?

It assumes that vote trades are bad, and that we should only be passing bills that command a natural, no-deals-needed majority of the legislature.

you're assuming deals aren't made under this system ... of course they are

having done all the easy shit like banning murder, we're left with difficult, complex legislation that tends to directly pit the interests of different groups of citizens against each other in complex, multidimensional ways.

there are other ways to negotiate ... you seem to be focused on how the legislators will work with one another ... i'm focused on how the people can keep track of what their legislators are up to and what they are actually voting for

if it's harder to make deals and negotiate and work out complex governance, so be it ... it's their job to sort it out, that's why we elect them ... it's our job to know what they do, and that's hard to do when bills are so damn padded with riders and earmarks and what have you

it's out of control

In practice, even in states that have a single-subject provision, courts are very reluctant to step into that morass and generally use any means possible to avoid the cases.

it has been done in michigan

What this means is that when these cases do make it to court, it's largely going to be a matter of which side has the best, most persuasive lawyers. Who do you think that's going to be: large corporations who don't like new regulations that just went into effect, or whoever was willin to accept a subpar salary to serve as legislative counsel?

if you're going to make that argument, we might as well surrender to a corporate fascist state, because you can damn well argue that for ANY aspect of governance, including elections ... maybe we have reached that point and maybe it's just too late

If you really want, I can get some relevant data out of the Book of the States and some recent legislative surveys I have lying around and, in all probability, show you that single-subject provisions are uncorrelated with measures of legislative attitudes and work patterns.

well, you could ... but it really wouldn't answer the question of what the people's attitudes towards their legislators are and their understanding of the bills that are passed ... it doesn't answer the question of why billions of dollars are pissed away on pork barrel projects without debate or even awareness of most of the people voting on it

and if you want to argue that it would be impossible to negotiate all this stuff, bill by bill, project by project, interest to interest, you know something?

you're right ... that's WHY i think it should be done ... because i think it can be argued that our federal government shouldn't be micromanaging every pissant local project that comes along ... we can give the localities the money and let them decide on how to spend it with their elected officials ... or we could just cut the taxes for those projects and let the localities decide whether they want to fund them or not, if they have the tax base to do so

again, you seem to be focused on how insiders feel about the process ... i'm focused on how outsiders ... the people PAYING for it all, feel about the results

the results are sucking badly right now ... it's time to do something about it
posted by pyramid termite at 4:56 AM on March 8, 2007


they will have more understandable, accessable and trackable legislation ... or doesn't having an unconfused bpublic count as doing "better"?

You would only have an unconfused public if you could demonstrate that the public actually had greater understanding of state legislation in states with single-subject provisions.

The reason that people are "confused" about legislation is not that it encompasses more than one subject. It's that almost everyone has better things to do with their time than closely watch what their state legislature is doing. Being a really gung-ho civic-minded politics junkie isn't a noble calling, it's a hobby, and one that most people don't enjoy.

you're assuming deals aren't made under this system ... of course they are

I won't get into it here, but for a variety of technical reasons trading votes is far more difficult if you can't concatenate the bills into a single vote. They would still happen, but at suboptimal levels; there would be gains from trade out there that a state would forego.

i'm focused on how the people can keep track of what their legislators are up to and what they are actually voting for

They won't. That's pure fantasy-land thinking. Almost everyone has much better things to do than follow legislation. This isn't a snark -- they really do have better things to do. Time spent following the legislature is time you're not spending with your family, it's time you're not spending building friendships, it's time you're not spending in church (or whatever) or other things more important to a happy life than watching legislators. It can be very hard for people who are strongly civic-minded or interested in politics to realize that most people don't share their hobby/interest, and that that's okay.

The best you can hope for is that journalists follow what's going on and report on legislators doing objectionable things so that voters can react. Unless all the journalists in a particular state ride the short bus, they can do this just as well without single-subject provisions.

i think it can be argued that our federal government shouldn't be micromanaging every pissant local project that comes along ... we can give the localities the money and let them decide on how to spend it with their elected officials

These are called "block grants," and they've been the predominant form of federal funding for state and local governments for around thirty years.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:11 AM on March 8, 2007


You would only have an unconfused public if you could demonstrate that the public actually had greater understanding of state legislation in states with single-subject provisions.

i can readily demonstrate that a good part of the public is downright disgusted with the process as it exists right now ... they don't understand why important legislation gets held up by irrelevant amendments and addons ... they don't understand why certain bills have hundreds of pork barrel projects added to them ... or why certain lobbyists are bribing certain congressmen to get them added in ...

the system as we know it is a mess ... we do not have effective government in this country

I won't get into it here, but for a variety of technical reasons trading votes is far more difficult if you can't concatenate the bills into a single vote.

i don't see this as a bad thing ... people will have to be a lot more honest about what they're actually doing ... and if it does result in a more deadlocked government, it just might force the american people to get their heads out of their asses and decide what kind of government they really want and what they want it to do

Almost everyone has much better things to do than follow legislation.

true, but when the people involved in making it and reporting can't even get a handle on the process, things have gone too far

behind all this seems to be an assumption that our government isn't trying to do too much and legislate too much ... i think it is ... and i KNOW it's going broke in the process
posted by pyramid termite at 7:46 AM on March 8, 2007


i can readily demonstrate that a good part of the public is downright disgusted with the process as it exists right now

Disgust with legislatures is largely invariant across legislatures' actual performance. Legislatures are the eternal whipping boys of politics, and they can't ever win. If there's dispute in the legislature, then they should set aside their differences and work for the common good. If there's consensus, then they should offer the voters clear alternatives and there's not a dime's worth of difference between legislators. If they cut a deal to pass something, they've sold out their principles. If they refuse to, they're obstructing important legislation. No matter what legislatures do or don't do, people hate them, because they have a complicated, messy job that involves reconciling the competing interests of different groups of people.

they don't understand why important legislation gets held up by irrelevant amendments and addons

It's not. It's held up because, like almost all bills, it does not command a natural majority of the legislature. The irrelevant amendments and addons are what are making the bill passable instead of dead on arrival.

they don't understand why certain bills have hundreds of pork barrel projects added to them

In order to secure a majority of votes, because as it stands a majority of districts do not benefit from the bill. Why would legislators vote for a package that makes their own district worse off, even if the program is pareto-efficient?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on March 8, 2007


And now comes word on the reversal of the policy that sparked this thread.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:54 AM on March 9, 2007


« Older Now that I think about it,...  |  Is it racist to condemn fanati... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments