Websites help you track what little legislation Congress passes

Friday , January 04, 2013 - 3:01 PM

E. Kent Winward

Part of the New Year countdown fun this year was amplified by the potential for fiscal calamity as we got closer and closer to Jan. 1 — much more exciting than the fictive Mayan Calendar watch.

Only Congress could pass a law creating a deadline to try to force themselves to act and then run headlong into the deadline like a crash dummy. You should look to Congress as an excellent example of how NOT to do your New Year’s resolutions.

The 112th Congress that just wrapped up the fiscal follies was one ofthe least productive Congresses ever.

President Harry Truman called the 80th Congress the “Do Nothing Congress” as part of the 1948 presidential campaign. Despite not doing much, the 80th Congress still managed to pass 906 bills into law. As a comparison, the departing Congress passed a little over 240 bills into law, more than 600 fewer than Truman’s “Do Nothing Congress.”

The departing Congress is going to be the least productive since World War II (the public records I reviewed only went back to 1947).

Now, as a lawyer, I’m fond of new legislation: new laws = new opportunities, although bills like H.R. 1339, which is one of the 240 laws from the 112th Congress, doesn’t provide much opportunity for the legal community.

In case you are wondering, H.R. 1339 designates the City of Salem, Mass., as the birthplace of the National Guard of the United States, an issue I didn’t know was in dispute.

There isn’t much anyone can do with that except maybe the sign makers who contract with the federal government. Apparently, everyone was in agreement, so facts do hold some sway in Washington still and who says the political parties can’t agree on anything?

While lawyers tend to like laws, the average citizen may not be quite as fond of new legislation. New legislation means new requirements and new obligations. We are all burdened with that pesky need to comply with the law. From that vantage point, a Congress that doesn’t do anything (or at least does less) may be a good thing. Keeping up on hundreds of bills is impossible for the normal person who has a job and kids.

This was the brilliance of a representative form of democracy, rather than a more pure American Idol democracy where we can all text in whether we think Salem, Mass., was the birthplace of the National Guard.

The advent of the Internet has made watching legislation easier than long bouts with C-Span. Several websites help you keep an eye on what your government is doing.

For example, http://opencongress.org allows you to track legislation, senators and representatives with email updates. It will send letters to your Congress folk on whether you support or are opposed to the bill.

I decided to subscribe to updates on S.3542 because I like the sound of a bill called “No Hassle Flying Act of 2012.” It is all about speeding up luggage scanning.

A couple of other sites for tracking Congress include http://govtrack.us and the Library of Congress’ site, named after Thomas Jefferson, http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. Utah’s Legislature can be tracked at http://le.utah.gov/DynaBill/BillList?session=2013GS.

So with these tracking websites you can get emails on your representatives and the legislation they are trying to impose on us, the populace. Just think, you can get emails telling you how close we are to fiscal disaster.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at creditcorrection@gmail.com or801-392-8200.

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