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When bill status is uncertain

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  • Josh Tauberer
    (Posted at: http://www.theopenhouseproject.com/2008/01/09/procedural-uncertainty-normalization/) I always find it interesting how although our government is
    Message 1 of 3 , Jan 9, 2008
    • 0 Attachment
      (Posted at:
      http://www.theopenhouseproject.com/2008/01/09/procedural-uncertainty-normalization/)

      I always find it interesting how although our government is run by
      fairly strict procedural rules that have been written out in various
      places, starting with the constitution and ending somewhere past the
      horizon, sometimes it’s just impossible to locate exactly at what point
      in the procedural game “reality” is. For instance, the constitution
      outlines how a bill can become a law. But, at what point is a bill
      considered vetoed? If the president is signing the veto signature but
      misspells “veto” (or whatever he writes in this case, I have no idea),
      or is taken to the hospital before he writes the “o”, is the bill
      vetoed, or is it still awaiting a signature?

      The reason this is interesting to me is that we like to capture reality
      in data. The Library of Congress and GovTrack both systematize (or in
      computer jargon “normalize”) the bill-becomes-a-law process. At every
      point in the game, a bill, in our data formats, is either in-progress,
      enacted, dead, etc. It must be in one of these states. After all, the
      constitution outlines exactly what states a bill can be in, so any bill
      *must* be in one of these states.

      But if we’re not sure what state a bill is in, what state do we put it
      in in our data? There’s also the more important question- What do the
      lawmakers do if they disagree about what state a bill is in? (Actually,
      I would prefer to phrase it as “what state they are in”, but that’s
      another story.) Wikipedia describes (what the editors of the page claim
      is) a current debacle over H.R. 1585: National Defense Authorization Act
      FY 2008:

      In December of 2007, President George W. Bush pushed the pocket
      veto into murky waters by claiming that he had pocket vetoed H.R. 1585,
      the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008,” even
      though the House of Representatives had designated agents to receive
      presidential messages before adjourning. The bill had been previously
      passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate [JT:
      and thus a traditional veto would have been futile].

      So was the bill (pocket) vetoed or not? Is the bill still in-progress?
      Assuming it was not pocket vetoed, after 10 legislative days without a
      traditional veto it becomes law, and us citizens would hate to be on
      that 11th day without either resolution on the pocket veto matter or a
      traditional veto, because then we as a country will not know whether
      this bill has become law. (Another question: How might the Supreme Court
      assert jurisdiction over this question.)

      But back to the data. At one point, some time after Dec. 28, someone in
      the House responsible for updating the bill status information shown on
      THOMAS entered a new status line:

      Dec 28, 2007: Pocket Vetoed by President.

      GovTrack picked up on the change and shows that status currently, much
      to the confusion of several people emailing me about it. Looking back at
      THOMAS, it seems like someone realized that that was apparently quite a
      constitutional (if not political) claim and retracted that update,
      because it not longer says that.

      In many cases citizens complain when the government takes things back,
      hiding information previously made public. That’s definitely not what I
      am getting at here. THOMAS is forced to show *something*, and when it
      doubt… well, what can you do but roll back history until we figure out
      what the next legislative step actually *was*.


      --
      - Josh Tauberer
      - GovTrack.us

      http://razor.occams.info

      "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
      falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
      Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
    • Peggy Garvin
      Josh, This gets back to the legislative process/sausage-making comparison. It can be difficult, or deceptive, to try to normalize the dynamism of the
      Message 2 of 3 , Jan 9, 2008
      • 0 Attachment
        Josh,

        This gets back to the legislative process/sausage-making comparison.
        It can be difficult, or deceptive, to try to "normalize" the dynamism of
        the President v. Congress, or congressional majority v. congressional
        minority. A database can only go so far, and then editorial commentary
        is needed - imho.
        That is where the THOMAS "note" field comes in handy. As you see in
        the note field re H.R. 1585: "On 12/28/2007, the President announced
        that he was withholding approval of this bill." Not terribly informative,
        but not blatantly misleading either. Providers of legislative information
        need to adopt their own policies on how to handle these challenges to
        the norm. There will always be an unexpected challenge, as with President
        Bill Clinton's test of the item veto after Congress, surprisingly, approved
        such a procedure.

        Peggy


        ----- Original Message ----
        From: Josh Tauberer <tauberer@...>
        To: GovTrack List <govtrack@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 9:42:56 PM
        Subject: [govtrack] When bill status is uncertain

        (Posted at:
        http://www.theopenhouseproject.com/2008/01/09/procedural-uncertainty-normalization/)

        I always find it interesting how although our government is run by
        fairly strict procedural rules that have been written out in various
        places, starting with the constitution and ending somewhere past the
        horizon, sometimes it’s just impossible to locate exactly at what point
        in the procedural game “reality” is. For instance, the constitution
        outlines how a bill can become a law. But, at what point is a bill
        considered vetoed? If the president is signing the veto signature but
        misspells “veto” (or whatever he writes in this case, I have no idea),
        or is taken to the hospital before he writes the “o”, is the bill
        vetoed, or is it still awaiting a signature?

        The reason this is interesting to me is that we like to capture reality
        in data. The Library of Congress and GovTrack both systematize (or in
        computer jargon “normalize”) the bill-becomes-a-law process. At every
        point in the game, a bill, in our data formats, is either in-progress,
        enacted, dead, etc. It must be in one of these states. After all, the
        constitution outlines exactly what states a bill can be in, so any bill
        *must* be in one of these states.

        But if we’re not sure what state a bill is in, what state do we put it
        in in our data? There’s also the more important question- What do the
        lawmakers do if they disagree about what state a bill is in? (Actually,
        I would prefer to phrase it as “what state they are in”, but that’s
        another story.) Wikipedia describes (what the editors of the page claim
        is) a current debacle over H.R. 1585: National Defense Authorization Act
        FY 2008:

            In December of 2007, President George W. Bush pushed the pocket
        veto into murky waters by claiming that he had pocket vetoed H.R. 1585,
        the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008,” even
        though the House of Representatives had designated agents to receive
        presidential messages before adjourning. The bill had been previously
        passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate [JT:
        and thus a traditional veto would have been futile].

        So was the bill (pocket) vetoed or not? Is the bill still in-progress?
        Assuming it was not pocket vetoed, after 10 legislative days without a
        traditional veto it becomes law, and us citizens would hate to be on
        that 11th day without either resolution on the pocket veto matter or a
        traditional veto, because then we as a country will not know whether
        this bill has become law. (Another question: How might the Supreme Court
        assert jurisdiction over this question.)

        But back to the data. At one point, some time after Dec. 28, someone in
        the House responsible for updating the bill status information shown on
        THOMAS entered a new status line:

            Dec 28, 2007: Pocket Vetoed by President.

        GovTrack picked up on the change and shows that status currently, much
        to the confusion of several people emailing me about it. Looking back at
        THOMAS, it seems like someone realized that that was apparently quite a
        constitutional (if not political) claim and retracted that update,
        because it not longer says that.

        In many cases citizens complain when the government takes things back,
        hiding information previously made public. That’s definitely not what I
        am getting at here. THOMAS is forced to show *something*, and when it
        doubt… well, what can you do but roll back history until we figure out
        what the next legislative step actually *was*.


        --
        - Josh Tauberer
        - GovTrack.us

        http://razor.occams.info

        "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation!  Yields
        falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
        Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)



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      • Josh Tauberer
        ... Hi, Yeah, I agree that capturing these nuances is important. I had never really looked closely at that Note field in THOMAS. Hmm. -- - Josh Tauberer -
        Message 3 of 3 , Jan 12, 2008
        • 0 Attachment
          Peggy Garvin wrote:
          > This gets back to the legislative process/sausage-making comparison.
          > It can be difficult, or deceptive, to try to "normalize" the dynamism of
          > the President v. Congress, or congressional majority v. congressional
          > minority. A database can only go so far, and then editorial commentary
          > is needed - imho.
          > That is where the THOMAS "note" field comes in handy. As you see in
          > the note field re H.R. 1585: "On 12/28/2007, the President announced
          > that he was withholding approval of this bill." Not terribly informative,
          > but not blatantly misleading either. Providers of legislative information
          > need to adopt their own policies on how to handle these challenges to
          > the norm. There will always be an unexpected challenge, as with President
          > Bill Clinton's test of the item veto after Congress, surprisingly, approved
          > such a procedure.

          Hi,

          Yeah, I agree that capturing these nuances is important.

          I had never really looked closely at that Note field in THOMAS. Hmm.

          --
          - Josh Tauberer
          - GovTrack.us

          http://razor.occams.info

          "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
          falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
          Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)


          >
          > Peggy
          >
          >
          > ----- Original Message ----
          > From: Josh Tauberer <tauberer@...>
          > To: GovTrack List <govtrack@yahoogroups.com>
          > Sent: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 9:42:56 PM
          > Subject: [govtrack] When bill status is uncertain
          >
          > (Posted at:
          > http://www.theopenhouseproject.com/2008/01/09/procedural-uncertainty-normalization/)
          >
          > I always find it interesting how although our government is run by
          > fairly strict procedural rules that have been written out in various
          > places, starting with the constitution and ending somewhere past the
          > horizon, sometimes it’s just impossible to locate exactly at what point
          > in the procedural game “reality” is. For instance, the constitution
          > outlines how a bill can become a law. But, at what point is a bill
          > considered vetoed? If the president is signing the veto signature but
          > misspells “veto” (or whatever he writes in this case, I have no idea),
          > or is taken to the hospital before he writes the “o”, is the bill
          > vetoed, or is it still awaiting a signature?
          >
          > The reason this is interesting to me is that we like to capture reality
          > in data. The Library of Congress and GovTrack both systematize (or in
          > computer jargon “normalize”) the bill-becomes-a-law process. At every
          > point in the game, a bill, in our data formats, is either in-progress,
          > enacted, dead, etc. It must be in one of these states. After all, the
          > constitution outlines exactly what states a bill can be in, so any bill
          > *must* be in one of these states.
          >
          > But if we’re not sure what state a bill is in, what state do we put it
          > in in our data? There’s also the more important question- What do the
          > lawmakers do if they disagree about what state a bill is in? (Actually,
          > I would prefer to phrase it as “what state they are in”, but that’s
          > another story.) Wikipedia describes (what the editors of the page claim
          > is) a current debacle over H.R. 1585: National Defense Authorization Act
          > FY 2008:
          >
          > In December of 2007, President George W. Bush pushed the pocket
          > veto into murky waters by claiming that he had pocket vetoed H.R. 1585,
          > the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008,” even
          > though the House of Representatives had designated agents to receive
          > presidential messages before adjourning. The bill had been previously
          > passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate [JT:
          > and thus a traditional veto would have been futile].
          >
          > So was the bill (pocket) vetoed or not? Is the bill still in-progress?
          > Assuming it was not pocket vetoed, after 10 legislative days without a
          > traditional veto it becomes law, and us citizens would hate to be on
          > that 11th day without either resolution on the pocket veto matter or a
          > traditional veto, because then we as a country will not know whether
          > this bill has become law. (Another question: How might the Supreme Court
          > assert jurisdiction over this question.)
          >
          > But back to the data. At one point, some time after Dec. 28, someone in
          > the House responsible for updating the bill status information shown on
          > THOMAS entered a new status line:
          >
          > Dec 28, 2007: Pocket Vetoed by President.
          >
          > GovTrack picked up on the change and shows that status currently, much
          > to the confusion of several people emailing me about it. Looking back at
          > THOMAS, it seems like someone realized that that was apparently quite a
          > constitutional (if not political) claim and retracted that update,
          > because it not longer says that.
          >
          > In many cases citizens complain when the government takes things back,
          > hiding information previously made public. That’s definitely not what I
          > am getting at here. THOMAS is forced to show *something*, and when it
          > doubt… well, what can you do but roll back history until we figure out
          > what the next legislative step actually *was*.
          >
          >
          > --
          > - Josh Tauberer
          > - GovTrack.us <http://GovTrack.us>
          >
          > http://razor.occams.info
          >
          > "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
          > falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
          > Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
          >
          >
          >
          > Yahoo! Groups Links
          >
          >
          > mailto:govtrack-fullfeatured@yahoogroups.com
          > <mailto:govtrack-fullfeatured@yahoogroups.com>
          >
          >
          >
          >
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