Cool Tools for Staying Informed … And Heard

By Sheila Freed

We are already a quarter of the way through the 120-day Legislative Session. There are about 1,100 Bill Draft Requests and in less than a month, they all must be introduced. Even people with strong interest in a particular issue can feel they’ll never successfully track what is going on.

Help is available, however. The Nevada Legislature has a wonderful website that enables private citizens not only to stay abreast of what’s going on, but to register their views. Let’s walk through a couple of these “cool tools.”

First, you may not know who your legislators are. Go to www.leg.nv.state.us, the Legislature’s home page. Down the right side is a list of topics. Find “Who’s My Legislator” and click on it. A window will open showing a map. In the top right corner is a space to put your home address. You’ll get back information on who your State Senator and Assembly Member are, complete with contact information.

If you want to learn more about that person, go back to the home page. Look at the top left corner where it says “Legislator Information.” Click on “Assembly” or “Senate” and then choose from the menu at the top of the page to get to an alphabetical list with each legislator’s background. There’s a ton of other information on the “Assembly” and “Senate” pages, including upcoming meetings and the daily calendar.

Politicians often find it safer to study a problem than actually take action to fix it. Have you ever wondered what happens to those studies? Back on the home page, right above “Assembly” and “Senate” is an option for “Research/Library.” Choosing that will get you to the home page for the Research Division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau. The Bureau’s reports on all kinds of policy issues are there.

If you’re interested in a particular topic, there’s a couple of ways to find all the bills that deal with that topic. On the Research Library page, scroll down to “Session and Interim Info” and find “Quick Look-Up by Bill or Subject. Using the subject search for the 2015 session will get you to the same alphabetical sort that is used to index the entire Nevada Revised Statutes, and you’ll find bills from Abandoned Property to Youth Parole Bureau. (Sorry, no Z’s.) If you click on the blue bill number, you’ll go to a page showing the current status of the bill, and a link to the text. As the bill goes through the committee process and the text is revised, you can follow the changes. Each new version shows in a different color.

Another way to find topics of interest is from the Legislature home page. Near the top of the list on the right side is “BDR List.” Clicking there will take you to a page where you can look at the “full list” or “divided list.” Choose “divided list” and you’ll get a search window. You can put in your Legislator’s name to see which bills that person has  sponsored, or you can put in a topic such as “education” or “health care.” This is not a comprehensive search, but it’s a start. Eventually there will be a blue number such as “AB 123” next to each BDR number. That’s the bill number once the BDR gets introduced as a bill. If you click on the blue, you go to the same place described earlier, with the status of the bill and a link to the text.

If you want to know why the language of a bill gets changed, go back to the page where you first looked for the text, the one that says “Status of Bill.” Toward the right, you’ll see information about the committees that have debated the bill. You can read the minutes of those meetings and look at the exhibits or handouts that are presented by people who testify about a bill.

So by now you’re well informed on the bills you have an interest in. You know how to contact your legislator because you looked at the “Assembly” and “Senate” choices on the legislative home page. Their email addresses and phone numbers are right next to their names, and it only takes a few minutes to express your views.

If you want to reach a wider audience, go back to the home page and scroll down the list on the right side. You’ll find “Share Your Opinion on Legislative Bills.” That opens a box where you can enter a bill number, then indicate “for” or “against” and add comments. Identifying information is required, to show you’re a live voter, not the creation of some activist or publicist. But here’s another cool thing: At the top of the “Share Your Opinion” box you can choose “View Comments.” Enter a bill number, and you’ll see all the comments others have made about that bill. You can choose “Reports” and see the results sorted in a dozen different ways. Reading the comments can be pretty entertaining.

So who needs video games? It’s possible to spend hours on the legislative website, getting smart and having fun. There’s no shortage of issues, many of them controversial. Part of our vocation as people of faith is to “speak truth to power,” and the webmasters at the Legislature make it easy. Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) urges you to do just that.

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