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The Planet
June 1999 Volume 6, Number 5

A Seat at the Table (Co-sponsorship Clarified)

Bills don't fall out of the sky onto the House or Senate floor; like new additions to a dinner party, they must be introduced.

The senator or representative who introduces a bill (by placing it in the "hopper") for consideration and discussion in committee is called the original sponsor. Other senators and representatives who add their names to the bill to indicate their support are called co-sponsors. Original co-sponsors add their names to the bill at its introduction, but others can add their names later while the bill is still in committee.

A big list of co-sponsors shows other lawmakers and the public that there is support for a particular bill, and can improve its chances of being passed. If a bill the Sierra Club supports has yet to make it to a floor vote - because of a perceived lack or support of a hostile committee chair, for example - we ask our activists to pressure their representatives into signing on to the bill.

"Co-sponsorship shows leadership," says Melanie Griffin, director of the Club's land protection programs. "It shows a willingness to step out front on an issue. So it can take a certain amount of courage to co-sponsor a bill because you're saying, 'Here's where I stand, and I'm proud of it.'" In the case of H.R. 1396, the McKinney-Leach bill, she says, co-sponsors will "build momentum while we wait for the rest of Congress to catch up to public opinion."

But, like dinner guests, bills can fall out of favor. A representative or senator can retract co-sponsorship by saying they don't like the process or the timing or they favor continuing negotiations. This is not always a bad thing. In 1997, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) withdrew her co-sponsorship from the Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery and Economic Stability Act of 1997 and fought the bill on the floor because of new scientific information she received.

Sarah Fallon

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