Looking for a Bailout? Just Call Your Congressman

But Ting is among those critical of private legislation, as he says it circumvents established bureaucratic procedures, clutters the legislative process, and feeds a "bad habit" of allowing members of Congress to serve their constituents' interests without addressing the systemic or societal causes of a problem. Some also say private bills are rife with corruption and favoritism.

"Private bills can actually help highlight a problem that needs to be fixed in the system," Ting said. "On the other hand, you can't really run a country on a case by case system, in immigration, in tax or in anything else."

House and Senate historians tell ABC News that may be why Congress has lost its appetite for private legislation in recent years. They say the trend away from such bills reflects a change in legislative procedures and Congressional culture over the past 50 years, with the leadership focused more on broader societal reforms than on individual relief.

Congress has always had the power to pass laws for private relief. Five of the 108 laws enacted by the First Congress were private laws.

By the late 1800s, Congress actually passed more private laws that public ones.

For example, between 1885 and 1887, 1,031 private laws were added to the books compared with 434 public laws. Most of those laws awarded pensions to widows of Civil War soldiers and resolved claims against the government, according to the House Historian's Office.

"Congress was so inundated with private pension and claims bills that individual groups -- the start of professional lobbyists -- would be engaged to help with the process," House Historian Anthony Wallis told ABC News.

Today, "Congress has expanded administrative discretion with many of the situations that tended to give rise to private bills," said Wallis. "Private provisions also are occasionally included into public legislation, reducing the need for private laws."

Those "provisions" are widely referred to as earmarks.

Notable Private Laws from Past Thirty Years

The most recent private bill to become law -- the Betty Dick Residence Protection Act of 2006, introduced by then-Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and signed by President George W. Bush -- allowed elderly Colorado resident Betty Dick to keep her summer cabin on government property inside the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Park Service had threatened to seize the property after an agreement Dick's late husband made with the government had expired.

Other notable pieces of private legislation over in the past few decades have resolved claims against the government for unpaid bills or alleged injury at the hands of federal agents. A slew of laws even absolved overpaid federal employees from returning the money.

Private Law 98-12 -- "A bill for the relief of sixteen employees of the Charleston Naval Shipyard" -- sponsored by late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, permitted the workers to keep the extra cash they were paid due to an administrative error in 1983.

Several private laws have settled human resources matters for federal employees, allowing workers to recoup travel expenses or transfer accumulated sick leave to a coworker.

The late Texas Democratic Rep. J.J. Pickle drafted private legislation in 1986 to allow IRS employee Susan A. Sampeck to transfer her accumulated sick and vacation days to another employee to use. The bill "for relief of Susan Sampeck" became law in 1987.

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