The effort for the Legislative Continuity in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Covid-19 pandemic

This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event

Author(s) in this article:

Institution(s) represented in this article: 

💡 tip: Click on author(s) or organisation(s) name(s) to access more content related to them. 

This content is supported by:

 

 

 


 

My name is Bob Reeves, Deputy Clerk of the U.S House of Representatives. Since the start of the global pandemic, the U.S House of Representatives has witnessed an unprecedented challenge to its continuity of business with an extraordinary impact on members and staff. The office of the clerk has been deeply immersed in efforts with other house organisations to ensure that the critical legislative functions of the house chamber continue uninterrupted. 

 

My focus here is on changes implemented on the house floor. Additional changes have been made at the committee level to facilitate their processes. The changes I will discuss required policy changes and the passage of legislation. 

 

We made use of existing technologies to automate manual processes and didn’t require the issuance of any new equipment since the technologies we used already existed. There wasn’t any additional cyber security concern, but we were certainly aware that the bad guys might pay more attention to them. 

 

We also tried to maintain our commitment to data transparency. I will highlight three of the changes that were made: ehopper, proxy voting, and the electronic submission of committee reports. 

 

eHopper

 

The first one, eHopper, on April 7th, 2020 in response to the public health emergency, the Speaker announced a new policy wherein bills and resolutions could be submitted via the eHopper, a secure email-based alternative to the wooden box on the house floor where members typically submit such materials in physical paper documents when the house is in session. Members and staff may use the eHopper to submit bills for introduction of constitutional authority statements and additional co-sponsors. The creation of the eHopper resulted in a collaborative effort by more than 20 clerk staff across four divisions: legislative operations, legislative computer systems, the office of official reporters and the office of communications. 

 

All done over the weekend of April 3th through 5th, 2020. On April 6th, we posted a dear colleague letter from the clerk, an eHopper quick guide in a staff authorisation form on the house internet, which is the clerk house net. Before the speaker made her announcement, on April 7th, 2020 the eHopper and associated back-end processing went live. 

 

Members have introduced nearly 2,000 bills electronically between the implementation and September 2020. This has become a very popular capability, particularly for staff who are working remotely and we received more introduced bills than we normally do, especially during our shortened pro forma sessions. We’ve begun to look at a more important permanent potential eHopper solution. 

 

Proxy Voting

 

The second change, proxy voting, pursuant to the passage of House Resolution 965, the house authorised remote voting by proxy on May 15th, 2020 for a period to be designated by the Speaker. The clerk’s immediate office, legislative computer systems, legislative operations and the office of communications, all collaborated with house leadership to create house net updates, a method for clerks to publish validated forms as soon as possible, and a secure email address to which members can submit their proxy vote letters. 

 

Members are required to submit a signed letter, either electronically via email or through regular house mail, to the clerk authorising another member to vote on their behalf before the start of the vote, which the member chooses to vote by proxy. 

 

Members are expected to have confirmed with the designated member that they agree to and are able to be their proxy. Clerk staff and leadership staff have a list of members expected to vote by proxy for each vote. We took advantage of an existing manual voting process where members can fill out a well card to cast their vote when they don’t have their electronic voting card with them. 

 

The members serving as proxies, seek recognition from the Speaker then announced from the floor during a vote that, as a member designated by member X pursuant to House Resolution 965, that member X will vote either Yay, Nay or Abstention. The designated member then goes down to the well and fills out the appropriate card and hands it to the standing tele-clerk for processing. 

 

The house had already modified its electronic voting process to limit the number of members and staff in the chamber at one time to provide safe social distancing. These changes have greatly slowed our typical voting process. 

 

Between the implementation and September, 2020, we have held 69 votes with 2,658 proxy votes cast. During a single vote, the highest number of proxy votes recorded was 72 and the lowest was 28 proxy votes. We’ve added the proxy vote data to the roll call votes tab and added a copy of the proxy letter to the legislative tab on the clerk’s website clerk.house.gov.

 

Electronic Submission of Committee Records

 

On May 20th, 2020 the Clerk announced in a dear colleague letter that pursuant to House Resolution 965 committee staff could begin electronically submitting reported measures, their accompanying committee reports and files used to produce the reports for a period designated by the Speaker of the house. 

 

Previously, much of this information had to be delivered in hard copy format, so the electronic submission of committee reports like bills and co-sponsors via the eHopper is a departure from our procedural norms. Clerk staff created a secure email dedicated to these submissions along with a quick guide to electronic filing committee reports, although committee staff may still submit documents and hard copy. The tally clerks have received 79 reports electronically until September, 2020. Most of these reports were submitted between May 20th and June 30th, 2020. Electronically submitted reports must meet the same requirements as reports submitted on the floor and be submitted when the house is in session. All of these changes that I’ve discussed are in addition to maintaining the normal way that we conduct legislative business.

[header image source: unsplash] 

Share with your colleagues: