Richmond Sunlight: Bill Tracking for the Masses!

The Virginia LIS (Legislative Information System) offers a “Lobbyist in a Box” option that folks/groups can use for tracking bills of interest as the Legislature works on them. Unfortunately, this is highly limited unless you happen to have piles of $$$ laying around unused, or have someone else footing the bill! If you sign up as an individual you can track up to 5 bills at a time for free. For $600 ($400 for state agencies) you can track all the bills you want and have multiple profiles and generate email notices and reports.

I have neither so I don’t use it. I use RichmonSunlight instead! Why? Because it’s easy to use and more importantly, it is free!

You do not have to register for RichmonSunlight in order to be able to use the basics. While the Home Page provides some interesting information, go straight to the Bills page and start seeing what bills are already in process for the 2017 Legislative Session. The mail page gives you two tabs “House” and “Senate”. The lighter colored one is the one currently active and the default goes to “House”. If you are looking at the “Senate” list and move away from the page and then come back, you will find that it is the “House” tab that is again active so you need to change back to “Senate” again.

There is a dropdown menu under Bills that is important and here is that menu:

By Topic:

Only bills that people have “Tagged” will show up under the different topics. Bills that have not been tagged will not be included in the list that you will see. This is why it is important to have some level of organization in making sure that all bills are screened and tagged with things that interest you. There are some “topics” already listed but if you add a “tag” that is not currently a “topic”, you will create a new “topic”. So you must use care in “tagging” to be sure you do not accidentally create new topics when you really want to add to existing. I have a list of the ones that I am currently using and will provide them in a minute.

First off, be sure that you understand “tagging” before you do it. There’s really only one thing to understand and it is something that I still make mistakes with after all these year. Directly under the box where you add your “tag” (right side of page) are these instructions: Separate each tag with a space: tax highway vdot. Multiple word tags must be enclosed within quotes: “capital murder”. So long as you follow those directions, you’ll do fine.

I’ve started this year off with some basic “tags”

  • “campaign finance”
  • “constitutional amendment”
  • election elections (Note the space between that makes both of these active, I always put both because both were already in the list of tags used and I wanted to make sure I was al of them. There may be times you wish to use one or the other instead of both of these tags.)
  • gun “gun safety” (note the space between gun and “gun safety makes it so that both tags are identified. “Gun safety” is in quotes so the phrase, rather than individual words, are used and the space inbetween the words does not create two different tags, one for gun and one for safety. There may be times you wish to use one or the other instead of both of these tags.)
  • redistricting
  • transparency
  • voter id
  • voting
  • “voting rights”
  • “hydraulic fracturing”

There are a lot of other tags in the list and that of tags will continue to grow as more people begin to monitor. These just happen to be the ones that I want to watch in particular.

Newest

Here is where the bills are listed by the dates received (to a degree:) You can look at the bills that have arrived in the last 3 day, 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, 45 days, or 60 days. I you are trying to track bills on a specific topic, this can be very helpful. Just make a note of the last time you looked, and then check for those that would have come in since then.

I’ll go more into tracking bills which does require registration later…for now, just get use to the system and start tagging so that we can all find what we need in topics.

House  Senate are two separate links that take you back to the list of all bills with the tabs for either House or Senate.
Past Years:

Here you can take a look back at previous sessions through 2006. Sometimes seeing the history of an issue will help to provide useful information.


Tracking of bills is a bit more complex and will be dealt with later. You can build a personal list of those bills you wish to track or you can do it for a group such as the one that I have at https://www.richmondsunlight.com/photosynthesis/728ds/

More on Richmond Sunlight in the future. For now, this will get ya started monitoring what your elected officials are doing an thinking about how what is being one affects you.

 

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