A new plan from House lawmakers would automatically register men for a potential military draft when they hit age 18, avoiding potential legal consequences connected to failing to file the paperwork at the proper time.

Language included in the House Armed Services Committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill would mandate the automatic registration of all males between ages 18 and 26 living in America in the Selective Service System, the federal database used for a military draft in case of a national emergency.

The system hasn’t been used for that purpose for 52 years, but men who fail to register can face a host of legal consequences, including forfeiture of eligibility for federal programs and possible jail time.

But the number of individuals who have skipped registering has increased in recent years, in large part because registration options were removed from the federal student loan process two years ago. That had accounted for nearly a quarter of all registrations in prior years.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., sponsored the automatic registration language and called it both a money-saving and common-sense reform.

“By using available federal databases, the [Selective Service] agency will be able to register all of the individuals required and thus help ensure that any future military draft is fair and equitable,” she said during debate on the idea Wednesday night.

“This will also allow us to rededicate resources — basically that means money — towards reading readiness and towards mobilization … rather than towards education and advertising campaigns driven to register people.”

The Selective Service System costs roughly $30 million a year. Lawmakers have proposed a number of reforms to the database in recent years, including adding women and completely eliminating the agency altogether, but none have made it through Congress.

The latest proposal was approved unanimously by the committee but still must advance through the full House and Senate before it can become law. The authorization bill, which contains a myriad of military budget and policy priorities, is expected to be finalized by the two chambers sometime this fall.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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