Upcoming Webinar: Lawmaking Around the World in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented legislative challenges unlike anything modern governments have ever seen. In response to COVID-19, legislatures across the world have adapted to remain connected to one another and their constituents, pass emergency legislation to provide relief, and oversee the executive to ensure that funds and programs are effectively delivered.

On Thursday at 12:30 pm ET, the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform (iLegis), in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is hosting a free webinar with legislative experts to discuss the challenges faced by legislatures around the world. Panelists include Dr. Ronan Cormacain (British Institute of International and Comparative Law), Dr. Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov (Bar Ilan University), and Mr. Noah Wofsy (U.S. House of Representatives). It will be moderated by Tobias Dorsey (White House Office of Administration). The webinar will include a Q&A with participants.

RSVP to the free webinar here.

Initial Thoughts on the House’s Remote Deliberation Resolution

This morning, House Rules Committee Democrats introduced a resolution (H. Res 965) that would provide for some remote deliberations for House committees and on the floor. Accompanying that resolution was a Dear Colleague from the Rules Committee that explains how the resolution would work, a one-page explainer, and a statement from the Democratic members of the Virtual Task Force on the resolution.

In short, the resolution:

  • Provides for proxy voting on the House floor, which would be turned on, extended, and turned off at the direction of the House Speaker. Members would send a letter to the House Clerk to designate their proxy, and no such designee can cast more than 10 proxy votes. The Clerk would publish the proxy designation on its website. The proxy is revocable, and must provide specific direction as to how to vote. Members voting by proxy would count towards a quorum.
  • Provides a mechanism for the Chair of the House Administration Committee (in consultation with the RM) to advise on whether secure technology is available to allow for remote voting on the floor. The Chair of the House Rules Committee would then promulgate regulations to put it into effect (to be published in the Congressional Record), and the Speaker would notify the House that remote voting is now possible. Presumably, the Speaker would be able to choose whether to provide this notice.
  • Provides for remote deliberations for hearings and markups for committees. Many of the details of how this would work have been pushed to the Rules Committee, whose chair (in consultation with the RM) would issue regulations on remote deliberations that would be published in the Congressional Record. To conduct business meetings (which presumably means markups), a majority of Members of the Committee would have to certify they will follow the regulations and that the committee is ready for remote deliberations.
Continue reading “Initial Thoughts on the House’s Remote Deliberation Resolution”

Remote Deliberations: Terms of the Trade

Congress is beginning to innovate around how it deliberates in committees and on the floor. These changes are driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made in-person meetings unsafe and unwise, although many of the proposed modifications require rules changes. We have seen various terms used to refer to how Congress could deliberate — e.g. remote hearings, virtual hearings, remote voting, etc. — but they are used inconsistently.

Here are our proposals to add some meat to these terms. 

Continue reading “Remote Deliberations: Terms of the Trade”

Continuity of Congress: A Timeline of Remote Deliberations and Voting

Congress has been mostly absent as the country fights against the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic began, many lawmakers, outside organizations, and former Members of Congress encouraged the legislative branch to instantiate remote deliberations and voting measures in the event of an emergency. 

The following is a timeline of many of the recent key events concerning Continuity of Congress during a pandemic. More information can be found at continuityofcongress.org

Continue reading “Continuity of Congress: A Timeline of Remote Deliberations and Voting”

Can Online Presence Count Towards A Quorum?

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a fantastic report last week analyzing the constitutional rules governing quorum requirements to coincide with last week’s virtual hearing on Continuity of Senate Operations and Remote Voting in Times of Crisis.

If you’re not a policy wonk who finds quorum requirements inherently interesting, consider this: Determinations around remote quorum partially dictate whether Congress can hold official proceedings and votes remotely. In other words, this analysis impacts how Congress may or may not work remotely.

So where did the committee fall on the issue? The short answer is, it’s complicated.

Continue reading “Can Online Presence Count Towards A Quorum?”

Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.

CONTINUITY OF CONGRESS: House of Representatives

Activity on remote proceedings for the past week fills two pages on our ongoing timeline.  Sunday was not a day of rest, as the New Dems Coalition sent a second letter to House Leadership, urging them to bring a remote voting resolution to the floor no later than May 4 (today).  

Continue reading “Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.”

Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress

A coalition of organizations, including a number of former Members of Congress, held a simulated virtual hearing on April 16, 2020, to illustrate how the House of Representatives or Senate could use technology to hold a remote hearing. The following is my prepared remarks concerning the constitutional and rules questions that might arise concerning such a proceeding.

 * * * * *

Chairman Baird, Co-Chairman Inglis, distinguished former members of Congress, it is my honor to speak with you today.

It has now been 33 days since the House of Representatives held its last hearing, and 31 days since the House’s last roll call vote on the floor. The legislative branch’s absence has created a power vacuum that the executive branch is readily exploiting. Congress must get back to work. The question is how. Continue reading “Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress”

Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress

Congress must change its rules to temporarily enable Members to vote remotely to ensure continuity of Congress.

Where Does Each Member Stand Two Weeks Later?

(Update, 04/10/20 11:48am): Two weeks ago, our team compiled a database to keep track of Members in the House and Senate who support emergency remote voting. 

Support for remote voting measures has grown significantly over the past two weeks. On April 2, the New Democrat Coalition Caucus wrote a letter to leadership urging them to engage in new remote measures. Then, on April 7, the Problem Solvers Caucus sent a bipartisan letter to leadership imploring the House to consider measures to enable Members to work remotely, including voting by phone or videoconference, or having voting machines installed in district offices.

Despite this bipartisan push by Rank and File Members and various caucuses, leadership is still against making any changes to the rules to enable remote voting in Congress. Speaker Pelosi indicated that the House most likely will not come back on its originally planned date of April 20, further disabling Congress’ ability to conduct regular business, schedule for its next round of appropriations, and conduct oversight of the executive branch.

Here are the key findings after two weeks:

  • 42 additional Representatives support remote voting. (23 Democrats and 19 Republicans).
  • In total, 111 Representatives support remote voting (88 Democrats and 23 Republicans).
  • No additional support in the Senate (18 total: 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans).
Continue reading “Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress”

Telework: Status of Congressional Offices

All Members of Congress and Staff in DC and District Offices Should Telecommute During the Coronavirus Emergency

Where Congressional Offices Stand One Week Later

(Update, 3/23/2020 2:18pm): Early last week, our team created a database with every congressional offices’ telework policy. Despite strong support from both lawmakers and staff to work from home, leadership in both chambers still do not have a universal policy for teleworking. 

One week later, findings from the database are grim to say the least. So far, Senate offices have been more publicly responsive regarding their telework policies. Informally, we have heard that a large majority of offices in both chambers are working from home. Our team plans to leave the database up, but will no longer be actively updating it.

Here are the key findings from our database after one week:

  • Most offices still do not have any official statements on their current work policy.
  • 89 DC offices have opted to fully telework (21 Senate, 68 House).
  • 14 DC Offices are staying open (All House)

Continue reading “Telework: Status of Congressional Offices”

Briefing On Continuity of Congress During Coronavirus

Congressional experts discussed the need for emergency, time-limited measures to allow for remote congressional proceedings during the coronavirus emergency. Speakers at the online event included:

Watch the briefing below or on online here.

Continue reading “Briefing On Continuity of Congress During Coronavirus”