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State legislatures pass hundreds to thousands of bills each year, but do we know what happens in each of those bills passed? Often times, no. That’s why tracking your state government’s legislation is important. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but we’ve compiled a couple tips to make tracking your legislature that much easier.
1. Know the process
You can’t navigate if you don’t have a map. Similarly, you can’t follow a bill if you don’t know where it’s supposed to go next. The first thing you should do when tracking a bill is familiarize yourself with your state’s specific legislative process. Which committees have to sign off? Is there a time for citizen testimony? What’s the amendment process? You should know the answer to all of these questions so you stay ahead of the curve.
2. Find your state’s legislative websites
After you’ve familiarized yourself with the process of how bills are passed, your next stop should be your state’s legislative website– a one-stop shop to find out what’s going on in the statehouse. A good (and transparent) state legislative website will let you examine the details of different committees, floor meetings, bills and votes.
3. Keep an eye on blogs and social media
Follow party leaders, caucuses, and state parties on social media in order to find out information about a particular bill.
Sometimes you can find out exclusive information or insider tips about session before the official word is released. Just follow a legislator’s social media account, like this South Carolina legislator below:
4. Find out who the players are
NOTE: Some bills that are introduced are just stunts, so don’t waste your time on nonsense. Learn to see the difference between campaign shenanigans and real legislation.
5. Find out when a bill is coming up on hearing or for testimony
The best time to start tracking a bill is while it is still in committee. If you wait until it goes before the full legislative body for a vote, it is often too late.
Here are three ways to stay on top of committee hearings and testimonies to avoid this problem:
- Email and/or call the committee legislator’s offices- Ask them to keep you informed on an issue or particular bill.
- Set up a Google alert for the key committees/issues you are interested in- A news outlet may obtain information through an open records request that sheds light on an upcoming bill or addresses a new angle you hadn’t considered.
- Sign up for committee alerts through the overall legislature if available- Sometimes you can request an email to let you know the upcoming agendas which may include bills introduced, discussion, substitute language etc.
6. Find the “loophole” in the amendment
One way to stand out from other bill trackers is to find a loophole or amendment that’s not talked about in the news or on political blogs.
For example, the California state legislature may be looking to pass a bill that’s looking to increase funding for a state park. However, a clause in the bill might be dedicating subsidies to fisheries off the coast of San Francisco that nobody’s focusing on. Explore this angle further rather than regurgitating what other news outlets are already covering.
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