Tuesday, July 12, 2011

139D: What Congress Does When it Runs Out of Numbers

So, while Congress debates whether to raise the debt limit or cause catastrophic damage to the country's economy, we diligently worked on making further improvements in the way we display tax law on tax26.com.  And one of the items that is causing our parsing engine to choke, is Section 139D of the Tax Code.  Search for it on any site you like: (26 U.S.C. 139D).  (Thanks to Sergey, author of the parsing engine, for pointing this out!)

It's not easy to find, and if you find the section at all, you may become a bit puzzled.  There are, in fact, two section 139D's:

One deals with school vouchers, and the other with "Indian health care benefits".  How did this happen?

Well, the D is what happens when Congress runs out of numbers.  Here, there was a 139 and a 140, and Congress stuck in a few additional sections between them.  And apparently added a second 139D, without knowing that that numbering already existed.  As the Law Revision Council's note states: "3! So in original. Two sections 139D have been enacted."

I pointed out before the thousands of errors I found when parsing California's electronic statutes. This error (and others like it,  including 28 U.S.C. 1932, 5 U.S.C. 5757) are in the U.S. Code itself.  Another bump on the road to digitizing legislative information.

Update: Upon further investigation, it seems that Congress has now repealed (at least one) section 139D.  An update on the House website notes that "Section repealed by Pub. L. 112-10, sec. 1858(b)(2)(A)". This update raises its own questions, since the bill that became Pub. L. 112-110 (HR 1473), does not seem to have a section 1858.