It was announced yesterday that Representative Anthony Weiner had “departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” His spokesperson stated that the congressman would request “a short leave of absence from the House” in this connection. This request implicates two legal provisions.
House Rule III(1) provides that “[e]very Member shall be present within the Hall of the House during its sittings, unless excused or necessarily prevented . . . .”
Deschler’s Precedents explains the procedure: “Although requests for leaves may be presented orally from the floor, they are properly presented by filing with the Clerk the printed form which is made available at the desk of the Sergeant at Arms. The requests are normally granted by unanimous consent, although they may be refused. Requests for leaves of absence may be challenged as not being on official business, although in current practice Members do not challenge the good faith of others in asking leave.”
Normally, therefore, Weiner’s request for a leave of action would be granted without question; whether or not the circumstances of his request will cause another Member to object remains to be seen.
A more thorny issue, however, may arise under Title II, section 39, which provides: “The Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives (upon certification by the Clerk of the House of Representatives) shall deduct from the monthly payments (or other periodic payments authorized by law) of each Member or Delegate the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from the House, unless such Member or Delegate assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or of some member of his family.”
The House has not exactly been scrupulous in observing this legal provision, preferring instead to ignore it on the grounds that, well, “its general application is not practical under modern conditions.” So states the Parliamentarian’s Note to House Rule III. One might think that the solution to this problem would be to repeal or amend the law, rather than giving impression that the House can’t be bothered with the laws it passes. But that’s just me.
Anyway, we shall see if someone raises the question of whether Weiner’s absence is due to “sickness” within the meaning of Title II, section 39. Come to think of it, this might be a good issue for the Office of Congressional Ethics.