As I was running through my Facebook feed, a post someone shared or liked caught my eye: a proposal to offer a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law which applies to the citizens of the United States which does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and Congress shall make no law which applies to the Senators and/or Representatives which does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
In 2013, ProPublica, a public interest journalism website I follow to some degree, listed out a number of Congressional exemptions -- in other words, laws our elected Senators and Representatives don’t have to follow, but we do.
• Whistleblower Protections -- unlike in the private sector, legislative employees are not protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.
• Prosecution for Retaliating Against Employees -- this goes hand-in-hand with the whistleblower exemption. The U.S. Department of Labor can sue private sector employers for retaliating against an employee for, say, reporting a health or safety violation. But while the U.S. Office of Compliance (USOC) can investigate such congressional violations, they cannot sue a member of congress on a legislative employee’s behalf. The employee must -- at their own expense -- file a suit personally.
• Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Training -- have you ever heard of the No FEAR Act? It was enacted in 2002 and requires federal agencies to be accountable for any violations of anti-discrimination or whistleblower protection laws. Notice my emphasis on “agencies.” This only applies to executive branch employees -- the legislative branch is exempt from having to provide anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection training to its employees, including members of Congress.
• Subpoenas for Health and Safety Probes -- while the USOC does investigate health and safety violations in the legislative branch, it cannot issue subpoenas to force members of Congress to cooperate with those investigations.
• Keeping Workplace Records -- unlike in the private sector, and despite even the Americans with Disabilities Act, members of Congress do not have to keep peronnel records, apparently of any kind. This includes keeping records of injuries caused or illnesses contracted while on the job.
• Posting Notices of Workers’ Rights -- you know all those wonderful posters at your office detailing (almost excruciatingly) your rights as an employee? Your employer is required to post them, to ensure your rights. Unless, that is, you work for a member of Congress. They don’t have to post them.
• The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- oh, here’s a biggie for me. While the U.S. FOIA allows anyone (not just journalists) to request information from federal agencies, Congress, the federal courts and some parts of the president’s office are exempt.
You would think there are more exemptions, but there don’t appear to be any. Members of Congress cannot retire with full pay after serving only one term. They are not exempt from paying into Social Security. They are not exempt from prosecution for sexual harassment. They are -- and this has been a biggie lately -- not exempt from Obamacare.
This doesnt mean I don’t like the idea of a proposed 28th amendment. There’s no reason Congress should be exempt from anything. Members of Congress are people, just as we are. They are citizens, just as we are. They should be subject to all the laws of the land, just as we are.
Do I think this possible 28th amendment has a chance? Not when it would be against the self-interests of the very people who have to put the process in motion. Two-thirds of both houses have to deem an amendment necessary or a national convention can be called -- by Congress -- after two thirds of the states’ legislatures agree to ask Congress to do so.
Yeah, right. Considering there hasn’t been an amendment to the Constitution since 1992, I don’t think this is going anywhere.
But I still dream of a world where Congress is made up of real, live people just like us.