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Congressman wants open House on Net

A resolution would give U.S. citizens Internet access to internal House documents.

A Republican congressman and the Congressional Accountability Project are proposing a measure that would give U.S. citizens Internet access to internal House documents, including such items as travel expense reports.

Representative Rick White (R-Washington) introduced House Resolution 478 because he says citizens should have the same access to the documents that is given to Washington lobbyists.

"We as citizens don't have online access to the core documents of our democracy and we need to break down the walls and let the information flow out of Washington," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "We pay for them and we should be able to read them."

The House will vote on the resolution in September, Ruskin said, and if it passes will go into effect on January 3, 1997.

The resolution would provide citizens with access to:
--committee hearing transcripts within five days
--committee prints of bills or chairman's marks generally available to committee members
--committee amendments
--committee votes
--committee mark-up transcripts within five days
--committee rules
--travel expense reports
--oversight plans
--committee membership and staff lists.

Ruskin said that the above documents are usually available to lobbyists within 48 hours but that citizens often have to wait for a year or more for transcripts. "It's galling that Washington can read these documents before citizens," he said.

Ruskin said he expects Congress to fight the bill, but that the opposing camp hasn't organized yet. "There are a lot of members of Congress who would be disadvantaged by having citizens able to read these documents at the same time as lobbyists."

So far, five representatives have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, including Representatives Charles Bass (R-New Hampshire), David Dreier (R-California), Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), and Daniel Frisa (R-New York), Jennifer Dunn (R-Washington), and Sue Myrick (R-North Carolina).

In April, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a similar amendment introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) that encourages federal agencies to put more information on the Net and expanded access to public records.

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