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House of Representatives ends secrecy about petitions to get bills out of committee

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A freshman congressman from Oklahoma in late September won a battle to scrap the House of Representatives'…

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A freshman congressman from Oklahoma in late September won a battle to scrap the House of Representatives’ 63- year-old tradition of secrecy surrounding discharge petitions, which are filed by representatives who want bills stuck in committee brought to the House floor for action.

House committees must hold a bill or resolution for review for 30 days. Committee members can simply ignore it and it will ultimately die in committee. However, a congressmen eager to move a measure can file a “discharge” petition and, if the petition is signed by a majority of representatives (218), the House clerk must report the measure out of the committee. In the past the House clerk named the signatories to the petition only after a majority of members signed.

In early March, Rep. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a resolution to make discharge petitions and signatures on them public. The Rules Committee took no action, and in May he filed a discharge petition to force his resolution onto the floor.

Members of the House read the petition, memorizing portions of the list of signers. In mid-August the Wall Street Journal, using the memorized list of signers, published the names of congressmen who had not signed the petition. Soon afterward Inhofe obtained the remainder of the 218 signatures.

In late September the House voted 384 to 40 to amend House rules and to require petitions and signatures to be open. The Washington Post reported that the Rules Committee Chairman called for a roll call vote in order to “give political cover” to lawmakers who had not initially signed Inhofe’s petition for openness.

(H.Res. 134; House Rule 27)