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10 things you might not know about HR 1

Some significant changes have not been talked about much as the bill has advanced to the House floor

The House begins debate on HR 1 this week, a comprehensive bill overhauling election and campaign finance law that contains several under-the-radar but still significant provisions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The House begins debate on HR 1 this week, a comprehensive bill overhauling election and campaign finance law that contains several under-the-radar but still significant provisions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the House begins debate Wednesday on HR 1 — the Democratic majority’s package overhauling voting, campaign finance and ethics law — some parts of the bill will likely get more attention than others, but several under-the-radar provisions in the 622-page legislation would nevertheless have sweeping impacts.

Here are 10 provisions that have not received much attention as the legislation advanced through committee hearings and markups on its way to the floor.

1. Support for D.C. statehood

HR 1 changes a lot of laws, but it also contains nonbinding provisions to express Democrats’ support for policies that, for whatever reason, they didn’t include in the package. One declares support for D.C. statehood — a matter Congress hasn’t voted on since 1993.

“District of Columbia residents deserve full congressional voting rights and self-government, which only statehood can provide,” the bill says, adding that “there are no constitutional, historical, financial, or economic reasons why the 700,000 Americans who live in the District of Columbia should not be granted statehood.”

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2. Presidential transitions and inaugural committees  

The overhaul imposes new ethical requirements on presidents and other administration officials, but a lesser known part of the bill would also establish new rules and prohibitions on the their transition teams and inaugural committees.

It would require presidential inaugural committees to disclose expenditures and would put a $50,000-per-person cap on donations to such committees with a requirement for public disclosure within 24 hours of any donations worth $1,000. It would also make it illegal for inaugural committees to solicit, accept or receive donations from “a person that is not an individual,” banning corporations and unions from giving to them.

The overhaul would also impose new ethical standards for the presidential transition teams that help the White House and agencies move into power after Election Day. Lobbyists routinely work on these teams, and the bill would prohibit those with “personal financial conflicts of  interest” from working on such matters. It also would require each transition team member to sign a “Code of Ethical Conduct.”

3. Allowing campaign funds for certain personal expenses

The measure is well-known for its provisions that seek to reduce the role of big-money donors in favor of grassroots contributions, but a less discussed provision would overhaul the way candidates can use their campaign cash.

Designed to make running for office more accessible to low-income individuals, the provision allows candidates to treat as campaign expenditures personal costs for health insurance, care of their children or other dependents, and any expenses required to maintain a professional license or certification. Spending on those matters would be subject to existing campaign expenditure limits.

4. Registering kids to vote

The bill’s requirements that every state offer same-day and automatic voter registration have gotten plenty of attention, but the measure also includes a provision to prepare minors to depart the kids’ table for the voting booths. The measure would allow states to start registering minors to vote, as long as they are at least 16 years old.

Republicans have attacked the provision as adding new risks of voting fraud in case the underage crowd tried to vote prematurely. But Democratic supporters argue it’s a convenient way to sign up future voters. Meanwhile, the bill would also allow most colleges and universities to become voter registration spots like departments of motor vehicles

5. Paper ballots

Though the measure puts new regulations on online advertisements and new requirements for election cybersecurity, it has something for those who might feel nostalgic for the old days of paper ballots.

That’s right, the overhaul requires the use of “durable, voter-verified” paper ballots in federal elections, according to legislative text.

6. Prepaid postage for absentee ballots

Voting absentee is probably less of a hassle for most people than going to the polls, but the legislation seeks to make that process easier by providing prepaid postage for absentee ballots in federal elections.

Practically speaking, that means voters would not need to find a stamp to mail in their absentee ballot for presidential or midterm elections, as the state or local government that administers the ballot will be on the hook for the postage.

7. Crime to mislead voters

While well known for provisions to make voting access easier, the bill also makes it a crime for people who, within 60 days of an election, provide false information to voters with the intention of misleading them or preventing them from voting.

For example, the provision would make it illegal to intentionally lie to people about the time and place a polling location is open or about their eligibility to vote. The crime should carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of $100,000, or both, the bill says.

8. Clamping down on foreign influence

After the 2016 elections brought intense focus on possible foreign interference, it’s no surprise House Democrats included provisions to overhaul the Foreign Agents Registration Act. They’ll also vote on whether to impose new limits on the political spending of companies with at least a 5 percent foreign government owner or companies with at least a 20 percent foreign national owner.

Representatives for corporations say they are concerned about foreign-national provisions potentially hitting even the political action committees of businesses with just one foreign national shareholder. Supporters of the bill say those fears are unfounded.

9. Large websites to record political advertisers

The measure is full of transparency provisions, mostly to force the government to bring more of its operations into the sunshine. But one provision seeks to make online platforms that accept political ads to be more transparent by requiring public-facing websites with 50 million or more unique visitors a month to maintain a record of advertisers whose aggregate purchase requests exceed $500 per year.

This provision, which would affect social media companies such as Facebook that accept political advertisements, is designed to let the public know who is trying to influence elections.

10. Posting congressional reports online

Another overlooked but significant transparency provision would require online public disclosure of congressionally mandated reports, such as those from federal agencies or the Congressional Research Service, dubbed the think tank for lawmakers.

Most CRS reports have already been made available online, as required by a provision in the fiscal 2018 omnibus bill. But agency reports to Congress are not often made public, unless the agency or the lawmaker or committee who requested the report chooses to release it.

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