Advocacy 101: Cool Tools For Legislation Sleuths

As the 2017 Nevada Legislature moves deep into its 120-day session, nearly 1,000 bills have been introduced, with more to come.  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, click on the name, and it will take you to that Legislator’s page on the Senate or Assembly section of the website.  You can find information on any legislator by choosing “Assembly” or “Senate” from the menu at top left of the main page.  There’s a ton of other information on the “Assembly” and “Senate” pages, including upcoming meetings and the daily calendar.  (Legislative Activities, then “Calendar of Meetings.”)

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.  Choose “Publications of the Research Division” to get to a menu of all kinds of reports.  Choose “Research Briefs and Issue Papers” to get to brief reports on timely topics, including charter schools, Common Core, “vaping,” drones, firearms, and ethics in government.

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 main Legislature page, choose “Session Info” — pick the 2017 Session or an earlier one if you are looking for past actions.  Go to “Bill Text Search,” and a box will open where you can write a general term, for example “mental health.”  You’ll get a list of all the documents that have that term, and you can click on the blue letters to read the document.

Just above “Bill Text Search” is “Bill Information” which opens a menu of Assembly or Senate Bills or other action items such as resolutions.  Choose “Senate” or “Assembly” and a list will display of the pending bills. Click on the blue number to get to the text of the bill, plus a status report of where it is in the process.  If there has been a vote, the vote count is shown, along with dates of committee hearings, past and future.

As a bill goes through the committee process, it may be revised.  You can follow the revisions because they will be captioned “Reprint” and the changes will be in different colored ink.  If you want to know why a bill gets changed, go back to the page where you first looked for the text.  If there have been committee meetings, you will see “Agenda.”  Open the agenda and click on your bill.  That will take you into “NELIS,” a comprehensive bill-information system.  Toward the top right, you’ll see “Meetings” and “Exhibits.”  Here you can see learn about the testimony presented to the committee.  (On the NELIS home page, there is a user manual in the top right corner.)

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 Legislative home page and choose “Share Your Opinion on Bills” from the list at top right.  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.

 

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