Colorado’s legislature has suspended work until March 30 as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, but what about Congress? As Amber Phillips writes today for The Washington Post, we still don’t have much of an alternative to requiring a group of mostly older Americans to continue to congregate in person in Washington D.C.:
Every minute they stay in session to do that, they are putting their own health at risk. More than a dozen lawmakers have self quarantined after brushes with coronavirus. Yet any delay would put Americans’ lives and livelihoods at risk. There is no way to fully do what health officials are calling for — social distancing — while passing legislation.
There has been a bipartisan effort to get all this done as quickly as possible, but politics is also creeping in and delaying action.
Congress does not currently allow for remote or tele-voting in any scenario, which is something you can probably add to the list of changes that will be discussed sooner rather than later.
Congressman Ed Perlmutter was a guest on The Get More Smarter Podcast on Tuesday with hosts Jason Bane and Ian Silverii. The Jefferson County Democrat discussed a number of questions related to Coronavirus and the federal government response — including this issue. Here’s a snippet of that conversation relating to whether or not Congress could change the way it conducts business:
BANE: The Colorado legislature has suspended work until the end of the month. What is the scenario in which Congress could do something similar? Could you hold votes remotely? Is that even possible?
PERLMUTTER: Well, there is a section of the House rules that deals with voting when there has been some kind of an attack, or a natural disaster, or contagion — it actually addresses contagion. It allows for a lower quorum, but at this point, I think, there is no provision for tele-voting, if you will.
There’s been a request by a number to have that put into place, but at this point, if we have a big vote, then we’re going to be given, I think, 24 hours notice. Those who can get on a plane will go back and vote. And we’re going to vote not en masse like we ordinarily do, because that seems to be the petri dish for passing this virus. But we’ll [vote] in small groups at a time until everybody who is there can vote and has voted.
There are a lot of things in play right now, but the Congress is still in session.
BANE: Do you think you would be comfortable with voting remotely, tele-voting? For you personally, are you okay with that?
PERLMUTTER: Yes. Yeah, I would be comfortable with it.
Obviously we have to make sure that it’s well-secured, and can’t be hacked, but there are a number of ways that we could protect against it. Again, in a situation where there’s an emergency that doesn’t allow people to get back to the chamber. So, I am comfortable with that…
…There are others in the caucus who are not comfortable with that and want us back at the seat of government in the Capitol, or nearby, anyway.
You can listen to the entire interview at GetMoreSmarter.com, or click on the audio player embedded after the jump below…