Recently we blogged about Billhop, a site for tracking state legislation. OpenCongress.org is a similar site for Federal legislation, created under the auspices of the Sunlight Foundation, where Ellen Miller describes it as "a user-friendly Thomas on steroids," referring to the Library of Congress' legislative information site, which has been around since 1995. OpenCongress.org is still very beta (I'm getting proxy errors as I try to review the site), but it looks like a promising tool for citizens and activists hoping to track and respond to Federal legislation. When it's working, the site should be a welcome addition to the online activist's toolkit.
That is an interesting idea: online activist's tool kit. The rest of the article was interesting as well, thank you, but as a new kid in the online activism world, I would really love it if there was one of those. I can imagine everyone else is doing soemthing similar to what I'm doing, bookmarking what they stumble across, maybe taking notes in an open word file. A collective tool kit sounds like an awesome idea. Hmmm... I authorized myself to make a wiki. http://scratchpad.wikia.com/wiki/Online_Activist_Toolkit.
BillHop (www.billhop.com) added US Congress coverage some time ago. They're way ahead of OpenCongress on capability and way behind on compresensiveness. OpenCongress gets the live feed of new bills and BillHop depends on users entering them. But other than that, for all its slickness and integration with the OpenGov and government's "issues" lists, it is a thin soup compared to BillHop. Over there, users can "vote" for or against a bill, comment on them, write talking points, and add background material. AND it provides support for State legislatures.
There have been a couple of diaries about OpenCongress on dailykos but I have been surprised at how little interest they've generated.
Anybody remember what Newt Gingrich said about expanding Thomas back in the day when he was riding the crest of the wave? Anybody have a copy of the text? Be nice to look back on that especially if the Littlest Futurist runs for President.
Legislators will DEFINITELY abuse these sites. In the last 20 years legislatures have been passing reams of "message bills" which gather headlines rather than doing anything productive.
Imagine a legislator promotes "The Puppies Are Adorable Act." Someone could vote against it either because a) they hate puppies, or b) they think the bill is a waste of time because it's obviously just politics and headline-grabbing.
But no politician wants to be seen as being against adorable puppies, so they will vote to support a measure that is obviously a waste of time and taxpayer resources.
Maybe an extreme example, but how about the "No Child Left Behind" act? The people who voted against it weren't in favor of leaving children behind, rather they were against the Bush agenda for education, which may considered to be wrong.
Now an example from the "Democrat" party, in the interests of Fair and Balance:
Today, in the liberal democrat-dominated NY City Council, a bill was past "symbolically" banning the "n-word." No one wanted to be seen voting against this, but as the city council has no power to censor speech, this is merely a waste of time, and is deeply offensive to a broad range of free-speech advocates.
Issue advocates must make certain that the descriptions of bills is highly accurate and unbiased. I hope advocates of all types are up in the editorial staff's grill when editors mischaracterize a bill.
What will happen, hopefully, is that legislatures will stop letting bills out of cloture with ridiculous names that provide nothing more than fodder for political shout-fests on TV.
Liz, that scratch page at wikia is a good idea, but my first thought when I read your comment was that we should come up with a tag for this stuff: something like actool?
Marty, thanks for reminding me that Billhop has federal coverage; I'd met with Damien recently and our conversation focused mostly on state legislation. I'm definitely a proponent of Billhop, and I've encouraged everybody I can think of to add legislation (though I personally haven't had time to do as much with it as I had hoped).