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Posts published in February 2019

DIY legislature

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You too can follow the Idaho Legislature, at least mostly. As the legislature prepares to kick into gear for this year’s session, the time feels about right for a look at the best way to do that.

As in so much these days, the best, albeit not the only, way is online.

It’s not everything you need, but it gives you quite a bit.

The legislature’s own website, at legislature.idaho.gov, has a large batch of resources probably not known by most Idahoans.

There’s information about each of the legislators, of course, and e-mail addresses for each. Not many years ago the only way to keep track of legislators was to carry a legislative directory booklet, which many people (such as me, when I was reporting there) kept in pocket along with other vital items (like car keys and wallet). Now a smartphone can as easily access it all.

The legislature’s website also connects to the state constitution and laws and even the administrative code (the state regulations). That makes sense considering what the legislature does, but it also makes for a handy central repository.

The doings of the legislature since 1998 are available there too, including all bills introduced, committee minutes and much more. Schedules for floor and committee activities are there; a big improvement from the days I recall when the only way to get that information was to go physically to the third floor of the Statehouse to find a printed copy.

There’s a specific current page I check almost daily: legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2019/legislation/minidata/. That’s where you can find the list of every bill, resolution, memorial and proclamation introduced this session, its current status and links to its full text and also its statement of purpose.

That “statement of purpose” (that’s the formal name for the document) is written for each bill and is something particularly worth checking out if the rough subject of the bill is of interest to you. Bills often are crafted in such a way that their full intent and effect may not be obvious on a casual read. Statements of purpose are supposed to be written in plain language, describing what the effect is, and what it will cost (mainly, whether it will have an effect on a budget or on general fund taxes). These are best read with a cautious eye, since advocates sometimes have been known to use poetic license in describing effects and costs. But they’re a good first stop to try to understand what’s happening with a specific bill.

If you want to track things in real time, you’re also in luck. On the legislative front page there’s a link to “live audio and video streaming,” and that takes you to the Idaho Public Television site, which operates like video and audio streams of many legislative sites. Streams include the Senate and House floors, the committee room of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (which drafts the state budget), the Lincoln Auditorium, where many of the larger hearings are held, and a bunch of other committee rooms as well.

There’s still nothing that can replace the understanding-by-immersion of actually being there, observing the atmosphere and talking to the people. There’s a reason legislators still need to meet personally, in one place, rather than conducting committee meetings and floor sessions by Skype. (Or is that day coming?)

Short of that, you can observe a lot online.