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House tees up FCC process reform vote

House tees up FCC process reform vote

The House on Monday is scheduled to vote on a pared-back version of a Federal Communications Commission process reform bill that has attracted bipartisan support.

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The bill differs from one passed out of committee in June that contained amendments opposed by Democrats that would have required the FCC to publish the exact text of proposed rules at least three weeks ahead of a vote.

That provision, which was approved in committee, is not part of the vote Monday night as The Hill previously reported. The bill is largely the same as legislation that passed the House last Congress, but never received a Senate vote. Three Democratic amendments are also included in the bill.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee pulled back from the more contentious items in order to get it passed with a suspension vote, which requires two-thirds support of those voting to pass.

“I thank Chairman [Greg] Walden [R-Ore.] for working with me and my staff to put forward a bipartisan bill and I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 2583,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in a prepared statement.

Among other things, the bill would have the FCC look into whether publishing the exact text of items before they are adopted is a good idea, but would put no requirement on them.

It would also call on the FCC itself to revamp the timeline and procedures during the rule-making process. It would make it easier for commissioners to hold nonpublic meetings. It would also require the FCC to make more information available on its website, including a consumer complaint database.

The abandoned amendment to require advanced publication of rules ties back directly to the heated net neutrality debate, in which the commission voted in February to reclassify broadband Internet service under strict authority governing traditional telephones.

Republicans are universally against the rules. They have attacked the rules and the procedures used to approve them.

Because of the high level of interest surrounding the rules, Republicans unsuccessfully pressed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to break precedent and release the text of the rules early.

Republicans also criticized the FCC for waiting nearly two weeks after the vote to release the exact text of the 313-page order.

Republicans used both procedures, common practice at the FCC when moving major rules, as a cudgel during the Internet debate.

Wheeler and Democrats have argued that advanced publication of the rules would set off an endless lobbying loop ahead of a vote. The draft rules are currently exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests because they are classified as part of the internal deliberative process.

Republicans have pointed back to their own legislative process in Congress, where bills are publicly available before a vote. Republicans on the FCC have complained stakeholders are many times advocating in the dark because they are unsure which provisions have made it into an order.

All five commissioners will testify on Tuesday at an FCC oversight hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology. It will be the chairman’s ninth time before Congress this year.

--This report was updated at 2:34 p.m.