By Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
For many advocates, there is a need to effectively track legislation through its various stages. If you or the nonprofit you work for has a few grand sitting around, you could buy any number of nifty software packages to assist with this. However, most of us do not have the financial means to do so. Highlighted below are a couple free and user friendly tools that can be used to monitor legislation.
Using Gov Track to Monitor Legislation
Gov Track is a government transparency website that is free and simple to use. Gov Track crawls varies governmental websites daily to gather the most up to date information on bills, elected officials and committees. It enables you to keep tabs on what is going on in the United States Congress and in state legislatures.
Once you create an account with Gov Track (you have the option of logging in with your Twitter or Facebook account as well as setting up a log in using your email) you can “browse” a number of topics. You can look up federal and state legislation, resolutions, members of Congress, voting records, committees, and live video from the floor US Congress or your state house.
Gov Track enables users to “track” bills, committees and members of Congress. To do this simple click on an item you are interested in and click the green “track this button.” Once you do this you will be prompted to add the item to a list. You will also be able to add the item to the email alert list. You will be sent an email any time an item on your email alert list has an update, such as when a new cosponsor signs on or a bill is scheduled for a floor vote.
Under the “track” tab you will be able to look at legislation you are tracking and you will find the “your docket” tab. In “your docket” you will see the latest information on all the bills you are tracking. Going back to the track tab, you will also find the “what I’m tracking” tab. In this section you will see what topics you are tracking and will also be able to add and edit lists.
You can create lists to organize everything you track on Gov Track. For example, you could create a separate list for state legislation and for national bills. Remember if you want to be alerted to updates as soon as possible you must also add the topic to the email alert list.
When you find a piece of legislation you want to track, Gov Track will provide you with the bills name, number, sponsor and cosponsor(s) as well the bills status (i.e. introduced, in committee, etc.). You will be able to read a summary of the bill find out which committee it has been assigned to and will also be able to read the bill in its entirety. Gov Track will also give you the odds of a piece of legislation passing.
Additionally you can track committees to learn when hearings are scheduled. You can also add committees you are tracking to the email alert list. Gov Track also allows users to easily see which members of Congress are assigned to committees and subcommittees. You can track all committees or select individual ones to track.
THOMAS is a site run by the Library of Congress with the goal of enabling citizens to have access to legislative information. The site was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson. You can look up current legislation, bills from previous Congresses, as well as learn about the legislative process.
Because of the time it takes to log information, THOMAS does not have records going back to the start of Congress. THOMAS has information on treaties going back to 1967, bill summaries and statuses going back to 1973, House roll calls from 1990 to today and Senate roll calls going back to 1989, and current floor calendars for both houses. You will also find committee reports from 1995 through today. THOMAS also features links to live video feeds of the House and Senate.
On THOMAS you can look up legislation either by using the bill number or a keyword. You can also browse by bill sponsor. Once you locate the bill you can read it in its entirety. You can also see all the actions taken on the bill including committee hearings and whether or not it has been added to the calendar for a debate or vote.
THOMAS features a learning section where you can look up terminology and learn more about the legislative process. You can also learn more about the Supreme Court and access other historical documents.