Honor in Office

Congressional Leader Scoffs at Requirement for Lawmakers to Read Laws

By Nancy Knight

Publisher: The Bugle
Date: 1 August 09

When asked recently if he thought members of the House of Representatives should read the crucial, history-making health-care bill they were scheduled to vote on, the house majority leader laughed at the reporter's question.The Maryland Democrat, Steny Hoyer, explained, "I'm laughing because I don't know how long this bill is going to be, but it's going to be a very long bill."

Hoyer's amusement drew a quick rebuke from Jerrol LeBaron, executive director of Honor In Office, a Los Angeles non-partisan citizens group that seeks to require by law that California legislators read what they vote on.

"When legislators vote on bills they haven't read, they base their decisions on the urging of lobbyists, campaign contributors, aides, other legislators, political parties and special-interest groups, who themselves have probably read only parts of the proposed laws," said LeBaron. "Buried in virtually all important bills are clauses written by lobbyists and congressional staffers that can have dramatic effects on public policy. "The elected representatives rarely see them. We elect legislators to do their own due diligence and study the laws they're enacting for their constituents. When they fail in this, as they do nearly every single time they vote, there are two people that they are absolutely not representing - you and me."

LeBaron noted that lawmakers are self-governing, writing their own ethical standards.

"Look where that's led us. It's like the Mafia or the drug cartels telling law enforcement that police aren't needed because they can monitor themselves. That's absurd. It's time we set some laws for our legislators to follow."

In pressing for reform, LeBaron drew a line between parties' competing interests and the necessary consideration of public laws.

"There is a difference between party bickering and honest debating. Debating is the formal process where our legislators make a law as good as it can possibly be by discussing it in minute detail. You can't do this responsibly until the bill has been fully read and understood. Any good debater knows that he or she has to understand the subject being debated. That's Debating 101, and it's common sense. Instead we get slipshod laws, poorly thought out, with catastrophic consequences.

"Last fall's $0.7 trillion bailout of the criminally negligent financial sector is a disastrous example. Our politicians stampeded into emergency legislation and got it wrong. Our families and kids will be paying long after the current crop of delinquent legislators is gone. The only way to get it right is to thoroughly understand the bill. It's time we put our politicians on notice. Do your job! Read the Bill!"

The web site for the group pressing the Honor In Office Act is www.honorinoffice.org

--------- Nancy Knight is the Editor and Publisher of The Bugle.

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