House to Codify Guidelines for Virtual Town Halls

Measure would provide spending guidance on joint events

Members wishing to conduct joint virtual town halls will get some guidance from legislation set for approval by the House Administration Committee. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New rules are coming to the House for members hosting virtual town hall meetings with constituents back in their districts.

The House Administration Committee takes up a resolution Wednesday that will codify regulations for lawmakers teaming up to do joint town hall meetings on the internet.

The resolution will make changes to the Members’ Congressional Handbook, which lays out the rules and regulations for what House members can spend money on and what they can’t. For joint virtual town halls, the proposed change details how expenses should be split.

“It is more of a clarification, something that wasn’t really spelled out that we could do,” said House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi.

The panel rarely brings proposals up for a vote that aren’t assured adoption, and this proposal is similar, with support from members on both sides of the aisle.

“Everybody’s in agreement that in today’s age a virtual town hall — it should be a no-brainer that you can do this,” said Harper.

Under the new regulations, members can be reimbursed for “ordinary and necessary” expenses related to conducting town halls over the phone or internet with other members of the House from any state or with senators from the co-host’s home state. For flat rate expenses, members must split the costs evenly. Costs that are based on the number of constituents contacted must be divided relative to each member’s districts.

It’s illegal under current law for members to send out mailings to people outside of their own district, so mail-based promotion of a joint virtual town hall must be separated. 

Mail expenses would be charged to each member’s office fund, and the mailings would include only the contact information for the member representing the district of delivery. 

The committee resolution does not need approval from the full House; if approved, the changes will be adopted to the handbook immediately.

The panel will also hear from the Library of Congress about the library’s strategic plan at a hearing following the markup of the town hall resolution. The library has faced criticism in recent weeks over a plan to make Congressional Research Service documents available to the public. 

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