Kathy Biehl is a member of the State Bar of Texas and co-author of the Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research. Formerly in private practice, she is an author, researcher and consultant in the New York City area.
Each edition of Research Roundup will pull together related, practical online services that take outstanding advantage of the convenience and efficiency of the Internet.
Not long ago, tracking a bill in progress was the domain of lobbyists and specialists. The advent of legislature Websites has put bill tracking into the hands of anyone who’s interested.
For the federal government and every state, a trip to the legislature’s home page will provide the history, status, and at least a synopsis of an introduced bill. Almost all of these sites also provide the full text of bills, as well as committee and hearing schedules and other tools for keeping an eye on the development of pending legislation. Most of these sites are updated nightly. A few states offer subscriptions to a tracking service (such as Lobbyist-in-a-Box), which will follow particular bills or topics and issue e-mail alerts when activity occurs. In a couple of states, customizable bill-tracking features are available at no charge.
This edition of the Roundup updates all site descriptions to reflect current features. As always, I welcome notice of new or overlooked legislative tracking services at [email protected].
THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet
The Library of Congress’s server THOMAS is the premier online source of federal legislative history. A query box directly under the title allows searching the text of bills in the current Congress by number, word, or phrase. Three other avenues of approach appear under the Legislation heading.
- Bill Summary and Status allows browsing bills and amendments by public and private laws, vetoed bills, and sponsors. Search options include keyword, subject, bill or amendment number, stage in legislative process, date, sponsor, or committee. The database under this heading goes back to the 93rd Congress, which was in session from 1973-74.
- Bill Text gives the full official text of bills beginning with the 101st Congress (1989-1990), searchable by word, phrase, or number.
- Public Laws by Law Number indexes the legislation of the 93rd Congress through the present.
Under the Congressional Record heading are links to the full text of the daily editions for the current and six prior Congresses. Routes for accessing the issues are many. You may search by keyword, congressperson’s name, or date. You may browse the issues via the publication’s index, which is arranged by topic (and goes back only to the 104th Congress). The topical index is also searchable by keyword. To dragnet for discussions of anti-trust policies, for example, you would type “anti-trust” in the query box, click on that phrase when it comes up in the index, then scroll through a list of links to Congressional Record articles in which the word appears. Also under this heading are Roll Call Votes, which chart the votes of each house from the 101st Congress on. For the Senate, this feature begins with the first session (1989), while the House tallies start with the second session (1990).
The Committee Information heading links to a database with the full text of all committee reports of the current and previous Congresses that were published by the Government Printing Office, which are browsable sequentially and searchable by keyword, report and bill number, and committee. Other links under this heading jump to home pages of current congressional committees and hearings schedules of committees in both houses.
Links at the top of the main Thomas page lead to the current Senate schedule, as well as to what’s happening on the floor of the House of Representatives today and this week.
The House site has up-to-the-day status reports on bills and floor actions, floor and committee schedules, current floor activity, roll call votes, and Websites of members and committees. All are searchable. Follow the link to C-SPAN to check the schedule of televised hearings.
The Senate offers much the same calendar, status, and contact information as the House page. The previous day’s floor activity is available. the top page has number and keyword search engines for retrieving bills.
Alabama Legislative Information System: Legislative information is available for the current session. Use the Alabama Legislative Information System Online (ALISON) to retrieve the text, current status, and history of bills and resolutions, as well as confirmations granted by the Senate. ALISON requires Internet Explorer 4.x or higher and the Adobe Acrobat Reader. The Senate broadcasts live audio, using Windows Media Player.
Alaska Legislature Online: The Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) contains the spectrum of information, including house and senate calendars, committee and public hearing schedules, bills in committee, and bill summaries organized by subject. Type a bill root into the search engine to retrieve its status and history. Information is archived back to 1993. BASIS offers a Bill Tracking Management Facility, which requires an account. The site has an online conference system for viewing the schedule of teleconferenced committee meetings and listening to audio recordings of the meetings, which require RealPlayer. KTOO-TV Juneau provides live and taped video and audio coverage of the legislature, the administration, and the Supreme Court via a service called Gavel to Gavel on the Web. Windows Media Player is required; the site promises that streaming RealPlayer media will soon be available.
Arizona Legislative Information System Online: Search current statutes and bills by keyword, bill number, or action; browse floor calendars, committee agendas, and session laws since 1995. To track a large number of bills, register for the “My A.L.I.S.” This free service combines access to the same legislative information with the ability to create and maintain tracking lists. The system’s log-in screen displays alerts when any tracked bills are posted to a committee agenda or floor calendar. Daily Posting Sheets are available from 1997 through the 1st Regular Session of the 45th Legislature, while Blue Sheets date back to the 1st regular session of the 43rd Legislature. “Strike Everything” amendments are now online, as is the Daily Senator. Each chamber broadcasts proceedings (on the floor and in hearing rooms) live on the Web. Check each site for the schedule. Windows Media Player is required for viewing Senate broadcasts, while the House uses RealPlayer.
Arkansas General Assembly: The bill number is necessary to view its full text or status, or to download it in Adobe Acrobat Reader format. There are search engines to retrieve bills by keyword or by primary sponsor or to locate committee meeting schedules. The site also posts a calendar of committee meetings in the current month. Bills, resolutions, and session acts from previous sessions are archived back to 1997 (81st General Assembly). There is a small archive of recorded committee meetings, which require RealPlayer.
Official California Legislative Information: Bills, resolutions, and constitutional amendments are available here. The site posts daily updates of assembly and senate bills in progress, by chamber. Within each chamber’s index, the updates are organized by bill name and give the status and history for each entry. The search engine locates bills by number or keyword and limits searches by session and house of origin. The day’s calendar for each chamber is online. The California Seismic Safety Commission posts seismic-related bills it has proposed, as well as those on which it has taken a formal position. It also offers a bill-tracking report, dated October 2000, and a legislative report dated October 2001. (Be forewarned: clicking on the link for either report will launch the Adobe Acrobat Reader. The site does not disclose that this will happen, nor that the reader is required.)
Colorado General Assembly: Each chamber posts the text, fiscal notes, and committee votes of bills and resolutions, which you do not read online but download in WordPerfect or Adobe Acrobat Reader format (depending on the file). Bills are listed by number under Status. Calendars and journals are also available. Take the link to pertinent legislative session information to search by bill number. Prior session information dates back to 1997. Each chamber offers live audio broadcasts (which require Windows Media Player) of proceedings on the floor and in specified committee rooms.
Connecticut General Assembly: The General Assembly has two pages, with vary slightly in access to information. If you approach the resource through the General Assembly’s home page and use Netscape or an old version of Internet Explorer, you will be directed to http://www.cga.state.ct.us/default.htm. This is a simply laid-out index of hyperlinked headings. Here the General Assembly offers a full text search engine that targets a spectrum of some 30 legislative databases, including amendment, bill analyses, calendars, journals, and session transcripts. Many date back to 1988.
If you use Internet Explorer 5x or Netscape 6x, you will be directed to the URL in the heading for this section. Users may personalize this page’s settings to display customized categories of information. The Bill Information utility here retrieves bills by title keyword; last action; introducing political party, committee, or assemblyperson; or range of bill numbers. There is also a full text search engine with the same parameters as on the other version of the page.
Either version of the General Assembly home page offers the assembly’s schedule and committee information. Calendars, journals, lists of bills, and floor transcripts: are available for both houses, which offer streaming video of chamber proceedings using Windows Media Player. Bill book records are posted by committee. Senate agendas and house go lists are also online.
Delaware Legislative Information System: Search by bill number or key word (under All Legislation). The page offers each house’s agenda, meeting notices, and ready list, as well as the house journal and roll call. Some committee information is available. Take the link to Previous General Assemblies to use search engines for the 138th and 139th assemblies.
D.C. Council: Bills are listed by number under Legislation. It’s also possible to retrieve a bill (or its status) by keyword or browse lists of legislation by member name or committee. There’s a search tool for retrieving voting records by member name and council period. The council calendar is posted.
State of Florida Legislature: “Online Sunshine,” the legislature’s official guide, posts daily calendars and journals, meeting schedules, indexes of bills by number, and a full text bill search engine, for both the house and senate. The Daily Bill Information “Citator” gives statistics, histories, sponsors, a listing of bills by subject, vetoes, and statute citations in all versions of pending or recently enacted legislation. The site offers a general subject index of bills, as well as reports of bill sponsors, by member. Budget information is available for both chambers. There is an archive of audio or video of recent proceedings, which require Windows Media Player.
Georgia Legislature: Each house has an index of bills and resolutions in number sequence, as well as general, committee, and rules calendars. The search engine retrieves bills by number, keyword, affected code section, date of introduction, author, committee, and sponsor. Live audio and video broadcasts of proceedings are available, which require RealPlayer. The broadcast archive goes back to 1998. Budget reports and summaries are at the site. GeorgiaNet subscribers may use the Lobbyist in a Box feature, which monitors designated bills and sends status reports.
Hawaii State Legislature: You may retrieve the text, status, and committee reports of bills and resolutions by number or keyword, or browse an index of the same documents. Indexes are also available of all bills that were introduced, passed, or vetoed in the current session. Orders of the day, referral sheets, action sheets, hearing notices, and bill packages are online, too. The legislative archive goes back to 1999.
Idaho Legislature: Find bills by running a keyword search, browsing the legislative topic index, or browsing the “Mini-Data” current status list. The page has indexes of bills signed into law (including effective dates and chapter numbers) or vetoed, as well as meeting calendars, session summaries, and committee and task force minutes. Information from the 2000 session is archived.
Illinois General Assembly: Browse bills or resolutions by chamber and number, or search by bill number. Schedules, journals, rules, and debate transcripts are online for both chambers. The house also posts roll calls and, when in session, offers live audio or video broadcasts. (Pressing a link for one does not lead to information or descriptions, but instead automatically launches the Windows Media Player.)
Indiana General Assembly: Search by bill number or keyword, or browse lists of introduced bills, enrolled acts, bills approved over the governor’s veto and resolutions. Look under Additional Bill Information for daily bill actions, bill action history, a list of bills in conference, a table of affected statutes, and tables of correspondences between public law and enrolled act numbers. Other resources include calendars and schedules for each house, House Journals. committee schedules, floor motions, and deadlines for legislative action. The calendar is also available for the interim (when the assembly has adjourned). A BillWatch service is available to Access Indiana Information Network subscribers. The archives goes back to 1997.
Iowa General Assembly: Session information includes calendars and indexes of bills, resolutions, amendments and committee reports. The List of Bills link leads to the bills introduced on the most recent past day of the session, by chamber. If you know a document’s file number, you can pull it up with a search engine (under Bill History). A bill tracking system is available on written request; Windows Media Player broadcasts of floor debates are available when the assembly is in session.
Kansas Legislative Services: You can find the full text of bills by number or keyword or search for them by subject. The bill status search engine (tucked under Single Bill Track) requires the bill number. There are search tools for retrieving signed or enrolled bills, resolutions and concurrent resolutions, a keyword search engine for signed or enrolled bills, and an index of vetoed bills (dating back to 1998). The site has agendas and committee schedules for each house. When the legislature is in session, RealPlayer broadcasts are available of floor debates. Premium subscribers to the Information Network of Kansas have access to session laws, bill packets, and a bill-tracking service called Lobbyist-in-a-Box. Engines for retrieving bills by number, keyword or subject also appear at CyberSession, a project of CJ Online and the Topeka Capital-Journal. This site links to the free services of the Information Network of Kansas.
Kentucky Legislature Legislation & Legislative Record: Look under Front Page Information for each session and house to browse lists (by bill number) of bills with two readings, laid on the clerk’s desk, laid on the table, or subject to proceedings. Other lists indicate bills by committee; in various stages of being passed, enrolled, or vetoed; or prefiled for the 2001 or 2002 session. A search engine is available for the 2000 and 2001 legislative sessions and for the 1986-98 legislative record. Bill documents are in Word format, and there is a link for downloading the viewer.
Louisiana State Legislature: The legislature has four query boxes for each session. Retrieve instruments by number, legislator name, number range, or keyword search. When the legislature is in session, the site offers a list of vetoed bills, charts of correspondences between bill and act numbers, a subject index, calendars, journals, and archived broadcasts of committee meetings or house proceedings. Live RealPlayer broadcasts of committee proceedings are available. For fiscal information, go to each chamber’s page. Sign up to receive e-mail notification of interim committee meetings.
Maine Legislature: This page provides session laws of the 118th, 119th and 120th legislatures and a search engine of the state’s statutes. The session information page (http://janus.state.me.us/legis/session/) provides a browsable list of bill titles and engines to search for bill text (by number or keyword) or status (by LD, LR, or paper number; subject; or committee, sponsor, or cosponsor name). There are lists of pre-cloture bills by member and by subject. Schedules are posted for public hearings and work sessions for committees, the house, and the senate. Journals and calendars are online for both chambers, as are bill summaries and fiscal bill summaries.
Maryland General Assembly: There is a search engine for retrieving information and status by bill number. The results identify statutes that will be affected and link to various versions of the bill text, amendments, fiscal notes and conference committee documents. To retrieve the full text without scrolling through the status information, take the Search link and check amendments, bill text, or fiscal notes. (Searching by chapter is available only for 1999-2001 legislation.) For the status (but not the text) of a bill or resolution, scan the indexes, which organize pending legislation by sponsor, subject, file code, or statute. Subscriptions are available for profile indexes of bills pertaining to designated interests and for up-to-the-minute updates. The site posts house and senate agendas, as well as committee and budget hearing schedules. Budget documents are online, as is a list of bills signed by the governor. Floor proceedings are broadcast live in RealAudio; previous broadcasts are archived. Prior session information dates back to 1996.
The 182nd General Court of Massachusetts: This site allows retrieval of bills or their history, by number or keyword. There are lists of numbered matters by chamber (for which only a brief synopsis is given), as well as house, senate and joint calendars, committee hearing schedules and budget documents. Streaming video coverage of floor proceedings is available and requires Windows Media Player.
Michigan Legislature: The full text search engine covers all documents in the current legislative session. Other engines are available for specialized searches. One retrieves a bill, resolution, or sponsor by bill number or resolution letter; another retrieves pending legislation by categories of subjects. There are also browsable indexes of bills before each chamber, by number. Each of these options brings up the full text of the bill or resolution, its status, and the history of action that has been taken on it. The site also posts calendars and session schedules for each house, journals, and tables of public acts and compiled laws. The legislature is beta-testing a new Website that moves search engines for the session and the compiled laws into prominent positions, while organizing other links in a column with telegraphic headings. The beta version introduces a Legislative Search Wizard, which has the user click through a series of questions, one at a time, before retrieving matching documents.
Minnesota State Legislature: Minnesota allows multiple routes for retrieving bills, such as bill or revisor number, keywords in the short or long description, authors, or statutory citation. Other resources include a search engine for bill summaries and unofficial engrossments, topic listings of bills, journals and committee schedules for both chambers, and RealPlayer broadcasts of senate and house proceedings. The site will send house and/or senate schedules by e-mail. Legislative information for prior sessions dates back to 1993.
Mississippi Legislature: The legislative calendar contains the timetable for processing legislation in the current session. The bill status system has bills (in full text) by session, and within that by committee and author. The legislative calendar and committee schedules are available for each house. Bill status system files come in HTML or Adobe Acrobat formats.
Missouri General Assembly: The bill tracking page supports searching for bills by number, sponsor or keyword. The page also indexes bills by subject. (The same retrieval capabilities are available on both the house and the senate home pages as well.) When the legislature is in session, the site broadcasts floor debate in RealAudio. For hearing schedules and journals, head to either the senate or the house of representatives’ site; each site posts this information for both chambers. Each chamber posts bill activity reports and statements of the day’s activity, and maintains session information back to 1995. The senate posts lists of bills that are truly agreed to and finally passed, as well as of the governor’s action on them. The house offers more than a dozen types of bill reports, including those in conference, in house or senate committees, withdrawn from consideration, and delivered to the governor. You can search fiscal notes from the house page.
GLO & Associates has engines for retrieving calendar year 2000 house or senate bills by number, sponsor or keyword. The site is funded by the Committee to Elect George L. Oestreich.
Nebraska Unicameral: The session calendar and legislative journal are available as Adobe Acrobat documents, as are budget status and report documents. Bills and resolutions are retrievable by number or keyword. One-line descriptions are available of new bills that have been introduced, by date. The site also posts Summary Sheets compiled from each day’s Journal. The site offers live streaming video of Unicameral activity (using RealPlayer). Past broadcasts are archived. The legislature has adjourned until January, 2002.
Nevada State Legislature: Information, arranged by session, ranges from lists of bills or resolutions by chamber, sponsor, or action to lists of legislation by effective date. Committee schedules are available, and there are also keyword search engines for bills (full text), committee minutes, and session journals. The site broadcasts the audio and video of committee meetings by RealPlayer.
New Hampshire General Court: The Quick Search option retrieves information by bill or LSR number, keyword in the title, and session year (back to 1989). Take the Power option to search by committee, session year, status in a chamber, originating body, or sponsor (among other choices). To search by keyword, use the new Bill Text Search tool. You can also retrieve a list of chaptered bills or bills introduced into each house. Calendars and journals are available for both the senate and the house of representatives. Streaming audio of house proceedings is online, using Windows Media Player.
New Jersey State Legislature: You may obtain the full text of bills by number, sponsor, subject, synopsis keyword, or committee. There is a thesaurus for determining the subject heading that would cover a particular type of bill. Bill information is archived back to 1996. The current legislative calendar is available, as are transcriptions of public hearings. Some committee proceedings are broadcast and archived, using Windows Media Player.
New Mexico Legislature: The Bill Finder searches for bills, memorials, resolutions or capital outlay requests by number, number range, chamber or keyword. Data is available for each regular and special session back to 1996. Each chamber posts committee schedules and floor calendars. A list of floor votes is under News and Issues (look for Voting Record). This section also contains an archive of legislative concordances from 1997 on.
New York State Assembly Legislative Information System: The search engine uses the bill number or keywords and retrieves a summary, with a list of actions, when available; take the Text link in the Summary to read a bill in its entirety. Calendars of the session, committee agendas and public hearings are posted. When the assembly is in session, the page broadcasts proceedings in RealAudio.
North Carolina General Assembly: Use the number to look up introduced bills or session laws. You can also search their full text by keyword. The bill inquiry system (Under Bill Info) will search by any combination of bill or chapter number, chamber, committee, county, date of introduction or last action, short title, sponsor, status, or term word (part of a standard set of words used by the Legislative Library’s list; follow links to view the list). The database dates back to 1997. Fiscal notes are retrievable by session and chamber. Vote and roll call history reports are available for each chamber. Interim, senate, and house calendars are online, as is extensive budget information. The Assembly broadcasts proceedings before the house, senate, and finance and appropriations committees; Window Media Player is required.
North Dakota Legislative Branch: You may retrieve the full text of bills, resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and memorial resolutions through lists (arranged by number) or the topic index. The Version or Action Inquiry generates lists of versions of or legislative action on a measure, by number. Other postings include house and senate journals, legislative deadlines for the current session, and a table of effective dates. Sign up under Legislative Meetings to receive e-mail notice of committee meeting notices and minutes. The North Dakota University System offers a subscription service with customized bill tracking and daily updated information. The North Dakota School Boards Association posts lists of bills it is monitoring or supporting.
Ohio General Assembly: The top page offers query boxes for retrieving bills by number, keyword, and house. The Search page will find bills by number; list them by sponsor; find bills, analyses, fiscal notes, or statutes by keyword; or list session laws, by session (back to 1997). The Legislative Service Commission’s bill analyses and status reports are available, as are the session calendar and two search engines for fiscal notes. The house and senate each post their calendar and committee schedule. Both chambers broadcast their proceedings live over the site. The broadcast archive covers the 123rd and 124th General Assemblies. RealPlayer is required for viewing.
Oklahoma Legislative Information System: OLIS offers a large number of bill tracking status reports for both active and inactive measures, which you can set up by specific measure, subject, history of actions, citation, author, committee, step in the legislative process, conferee, or status in conference or GCCA. The text of measures is available in RTF files, which combine pending legislation that has been subject to the same action (for example, all introduced measures in a particular chamber). Both houses post their agendas and meeting notices.
Oregon State Legislature: You can search or browse the full text of bills or laws from the current session or previous ones back to 1995. Under each session, there are “amend and repeal” tables indicating affected revised civil statutes sections, tables of enacted measures, cumulative history files, third reading calendars, and an index of measures by topic. The site broadcasts chamber and committee proceedings with RealPlayer; previous broadcasts (beginning in 1999) are archived. Committee schedules are available for both houses.
Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Electronic Bill Room: Retrieve information about bills and resolutions by number or keyword. (The databases for these search engines date back to 1981 and 1991, respectively.) All pending legislation is indexed by chamber and by topic. Take the Bill Tracking Reports link to generate lists of actions, bills and resolutions introduced, or new printers’ numbers of bills. Look under Session for house and senate schedules and calendars.
Rhode Island General Assembly: Retrieve the text of pending legislation with the keyword search engine, or by browsing a subject index (under Law Revision Office). The search engine for bill status or history looks by report title, committee, subject, sponsor, number, or type of action. Other resources include journals, daily bill introductions by house, and committee and floor calendars. The Law Revision Website lists all enacted or potential changes to the general laws, based on pending legislation.
South Carolina General Assembly State House Network: South Carolina has three search engines for bills. The full text option compares keywords against the text of bills; one uses the bill number (under Quick Search); and the key field option (also under Quick Search) searches by act number, sponsor name, short subject, or committee. The search results include a list of all actions taken on a bill and link to all previous versions of it. The General Assembly offers a subscription service that sends e-mail notification when activity has occurred affecting designated bills. A new program, the Palm-Size State House, makes e-mail alerts, chamber schedules, and other information available to any device that uses the Palm Operating System. (Either Palm VII or AvantoGo is required). The site posts calendars, journals, and meeting information for both the house and the senate. Both chambers broadcast their proceedings live; RealPlayer is required for viewing.
South Dakota Legislative Research Council: Use the bill menu under the Current Legislative Session to find a bill by number, view a list of bills (which can be all in the current session or a list you have customized), or run a keyword search of the full text of all bills. Look under Reports for a subject index of bills, as well as lists of ones that have been signed or vetoed by the governor, or whose text has been entirely changed (under Hoghouse). To set up bill tracking lists, use a free service called “My Legislative Research,” which allows users to customize the Legislative Research Council page. For calendars, journals, committee agendas and minutes, and live hearing audio, press the Chamber or Committee icon. Some committee hearings are broadcast at the site by live audio; the site does not specify the player required. Past session information is available as far back as 1997.
Tennessee General Assembly: Locate the text of bills and resolutions by browsing the filed bill index (which is organized by number and chamber), or by using the search engine, which recognizes either the bill number or keywords. There is a list of chaptered bills; the site also lists bills by effective date. Each chamber posts its calendar and committee schedules on its home page.
Texas Legislature Online: If you know the bill number, use the Bill Information search engine to pull up the history, captions, actions, or text. Keyword searches are available for bill texts or analyses and fiscal notes; you can also retrieve bills by any combination of author, sponsor, committee, subject, and action. The amendments search engine recognizes chamber, author, bill number, reading, amendment type, action, and date or date range. House and senate calendars and committee schedules are online. Take the TLO Interactive link to view lists of bills by author, subject, or committee. Use the Personal Bill List option to set up, at no charge, a tracking system for bills of your choice. Calendars and hearing schedules are posted here for both houses. TLO Interactive also offers live and archived RealPlayer video broadcasts of house, senate, and committee proceedings. The Texas Probate Website, monitors bills in both houses that affect probate and trust law. The site host is the Austin firm of Barnes & Karisch, P.C. The Texas Telephone Association maintains a spreadsheet of bills of critical interest or major concern to the telecommunications industry.
Utah State Legislature: Look under Archives for a separate page for each session of the legislature (including special ones) dating back to 1997. The current Bills link page has lists of bills that were passed or introduced (categorized by number, subject, or sponsor), as well as a search engine for locating bills by subject, representative, or senator. The Bill Browser identifies bills at various stages in the legislative process, by chamber. Budget information includes fiscal notes. Previous session pages offer engines to search the status or text of bills, the database of passed bills, and journals.
Vermont Legislature: The Legislative Bill Tracking System offers multiple means of access to bills and resolutions. One search engine recognizes sponsor names or keywords, another uses the measure’s number to pull up its current status, and a third locates them by affected VSA section. Reports are available of almost every imaginable categorization, such as introduced, passed by one chamber, passed by both chambers, enacted, in committee, or with recent activity. There are also browsable lists on the Legislative Documents page, which posts searchable calendars and journals as well. This page generally offers full-text search engines as well, which were temporarily unavailable on my most recent visit. The legislature’s top page posts calendars, the week’s committee meeting schedule and selected meeting minutes. The legislative archive goes back to 1987.
Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information System: The system offers both a subject index and a searchable database of bills and resolutions. Multiple retrieval options are available for checking on status, including (but by no means limited to) bill number, committee, date of introduction, house of passage, and legislation that has been vetoed or carried over to the next session. The site also posts meeting schedules, daily floor calendars and minutes of floor activity. A subscription bill tracking service called Lobbyist-in-a-Box is available.
Washington State Legislature: Most of the bill tracking resources appear under Bill Info. The search engine is the easiest way to access the text of bills. The topical index gives bill numbers and telegraphic synopses, but does not provide or link to the text or history. The Daily Status Report lists all bills in numerical order and gives their current status; like the topical index, this is one long text document without external links or internal jumps. There are several tables of correspondences between legislation and the code; one highlights sections affected by new legislation. Legislative information dates back to 1997. The Legislative Info link (from the legislature home page) contains calendars for the session, meeting schedules for both houses, and lists of legislation sponsored by each member.
West Virginia Legislature: The Bill Status link allows you to search or browse bills, abstracts, and resolutions by session, dating back to 1993. It also offers many avenues to browse status information, such as by committee, sponsor, subject, or affected code section. Committee schedules and session calendars are currently under Interims. Daily summaries are available on the top page.
Wisconsin Legislature: The proposal number and session date are necessary to obtain the text and history of legislation (dating back to1995) under the Bills & Resolution link. A subject index offers another way to locate the full text of a proposal. There are also lists of introduced proposals by chamber and by type. A keyword search engine is available for enrolled bills. Other resources include a session schedule, weekly committee schedules, and daily floor calendars for each chamber. The InSession page for each chamber reports the current item and question of debate, updated every 10 seconds. When the legislature is in session, this page provides audio broadcasts of floor activity, which require either RealAudio or Windows Media Player. The assembly also offers live video broadcasts using RealPlayer or Windows Media Player.
Wyoming State Legislature: The Bill Information page under a session contains lists of bills by chamber, by title, by sponsor name, and by subject. The full text is available, by chamber and bill number, for bills prepared for introduction, engrossed bills, chaptered acts, and enrolled acts. Daily actions appear by bill number under Daily Bill Status. Calendars and committee hearings are posted. Prior legislative information goes back to 1995. Each chamber broadcasts audio live when in session; RealPlayer is required.
GalleyWatch.com: Geared to the lobbyist, GalleryWatch offer customizable tracking systems for federal or Texas legislation and agency activity. (References to the previous New Mexico database have disappeared from the site.) Besides searchable databases of bills in progress, the system provides committee, floor activity, and member staff reports; access to primary legal materials; e-mail or paging notification of committee actions and an array of other events within 30-90 seconds, for floor actions; tracking of statutes affected by pending legislation; and online communication tools (adding notes to bills, sending e-mail, and paging).
Daily House and Senate action reports, sent by e-mail, identify, summarize, and link to the full text of all bills up for action. The system automatically runs each saved search daily and sends e-mail every morning of pertinent actions that occurred the previous day.
Scheduling information includes a clickable calendar for the year; at-a-glance calendars highlighting meeting days on the committee page; and lists of upcoming legislator birthdays and press conferences,
For members of Congress, GalleryWatch provides downloadable mailing labels; biographies; voting records; press releases; listing of all bills filed or sponsored; a searchable database of staffers; and campaign contribution information. Vote analysis and sorting options are numerous, including by caucus and relation to the user’s position on a bill. Agency data includes contact and staff details and a searchable index.
The demo on the site uses real-time data. A two-week free trial is available for GalleryWatch Federal.
Recent enhancements to the federal service include searchable databases of amendments and committee reports, subcommittee sorting capability, the ability to post notes on bill texts and save any type of searches (not merely bill searches), and expanded options for e-mail alerts.
Add-on services include National Journal Markups, which report on markups in laymen’s terms; USBudget.com, which offers analysis as well as hard budget data; and a “Page Me” subscription service, which transmits alphanumeric messages to the pager or cellular phone of other subscribers. The GW Mobile feature offers access to legislative information through personal digital assistants.
GoverNet Affairs: This service sets up a customized organization start page based on a client’s selected issues and the jurisdictions to which it has subscribed. Keyword search parameters include changes from the previous 24 hours. Search results may be saved in a customized URL, which appear on the organization start page and update automatically when changes occur in the listed bills.
A user may attach notes and a position statement to a bill, rate the bill’s impact and possibility of passage, and sort bills based on such ratings. The service sends e-mail alerts when tracked bills change. It also generates icons on the start page to indicate when pertinent new or changed bills or new notes are in the system. A one-week trial account is available.
LegAlert: This service permits full text searching of bills up to four years old. Committee reports and fiscal data are also available. Users may save search criteria and/or sign up for alert service that automatically runs a search profile and sends e-mail when changes occur. Users may subscribe to any combination of jurisdictions; pricing is by state (federal data is not separated out in pricing).
Free resources include a chart of legislative session begin and end dates, prefilings and carryovers. The site also has a free demo.
Related products are RegAlert, which provides for all state and federal regulations, and PUCAlert, geared to state and federal Public Utility Commission regulations. Each claims to be the only up-to-date online service of its kind, and my research hasn’t uncovered anything that contradicts the claim.
LegiCrawler: Legicrawler develops a client-tailored Web site for monitoring state and/or federal legislation. The service creates search queries for issues specified by the client and handles the tracking of bills related to them. The custom site gives real-time access to state and federal legislation from official sources. Users may generate a report of new legislation, create a list of bills from a report, and add notes to bills. A demo is available on request.
Lexis: Lexis offers several routes to follow legislation in progress on both the federal and state level. The Get a Document feature retrieves the full text of a bill, but requires the bill number to do it. Without the bill number, use the full text of bills search engine. Once the full text is retrieved, it’s possible to follow links in it to related news stories (when available) and to bill tracking reports, which chronicle the action that has been taken; on the federal level this feature may contain committee reports and other types of legislative history as well. Bill tracking reports are also directly accessible within the Legislative Materials section of each jurisdiction. Access to these features for a particular jurisdiction depends on the scope of the subscription.
To receive updated information, a user may save search criteria and take advantage of Lexis’ Eclipse service, which is part of a subscription and available for any subject matter search (not merely bill tracking). Eclipse automatically runs a search daily, weekly, or monthly and notifies the customer when changes in the search occur.
LoisLaw.com: Loislaw.com subscribers may set up the LOIS LawWatch feature to e-mail notice of legislative acts (and other developments) in areas selected by the user. (Alternatively, this feature saves the updates on the user’s personal Loislaw.com start page.) A free trial is available.
StateNet: StateNet’s products address varying levels of client participation, from autonomous to full-service tracking.
Instead of the client manually saving searches and setting up alerts, StateNet develops search strategies with each client, then runs searches at night and emails the results in the morning. Each new client receives a customized topic index profile containing pertinent topic numbers to use for performing searches and running bill lists. These numbers come from a 40-page indexing system that StateNet devised to facilitate searching across jurisdictions, by taking into account variances in terminology. The indexing system classifies every bill and regulation by at least one topic. The indexing is reviewed each time a bill passes a legislative chamber; in states that make amendment language available, the indexing is reviewed at the time of each amendment as well.
A subscriber may use a bill number to retrieve the full text, summaries, status reports, and different versions. Keyword searches across jurisdictions are also possible. The user may add its own headings, tags, and summaries to bills and set up private bill tracking files. The user may run schedules of committee hearings on bills in the private bill file; alternatively, StateNet will run this type of report regularly and email it.
The user may also consult Federal BILLCAST. This computer algorithm assigns numerical weights to a bill’s author and the makeup of the committees considering it, then calculates the odds of the bill’s passing committee and each house. (Lexis and Westlaw subscribers may recognize the name; StateNet provides this feature to those databases as well).
Calendar information includes daily, subject and interim calendars for all 50 states, as well as a nationwide session calendar, updated weekly, and a calendar of effective dates for legislation, broken out by jurisdiction. Committee reports and voting records are available for less than a dozen states.
The news module includes the National Capitol Journal, which provides a weekly overview; daily editions in California, Illinois, Maine, and Pennsylvania; pre-session forecasts and post-session wrap-ups for each state; legislative directories for each state; a 50-state summary session calendar, updated weekly; detailed session schedules; a calendar of effective dates of legislation, by jurisdiction; and state bill room phone numbers.
StateNet’s Custom Service handles tracking by setting up topic lists and bill files, running reports nightly, and sending reports by email, fax, or FTP on an agreed-upon delivery schedule. The news and intelligence service provides custom reports, tailored to the client’s interests, of industry and political news and background (including hearing and meeting times and locations).
Subscriptions may cover a single jurisdiction or multiple choices. A regulatory service is also available on the federal and/or state level. A free copy of a nationwide 2002 Legislative Calendar is available on request.
Westlaw: Westlaw has two searchable database options for federal bill tracking. US-billtrk is provided by Information for Public Affairs, while Cong-billtrk uses Library of Congress data with West Group editorial comments. To track state legislation, either enter the multi-state searchable database St-billtrk, which accesses all 50 states simultaneously, or type the jurisdiction’s postal abbreviation and “-billtrk”. A regular Westlaw subscription allows access to each of these databases, although there will be billing for use; users of specialized, flat-fee plans will not have access to them.
Westlaw permits users to save search queries. The WestClip service will run a query daily and notify the customer if new documents match the search. There is no additional charge for notification, but users may have to pay to retrieve documents.
Congressional Quarterly’s On Congress: This federal legislative tracking service combines 20 searchable databases of federal bills, news, calendars, and staff information; tracking and e-mail alerts; primary federal legal materials; an online time-keeping tool; and renown political reporting, analysis, and commentary. Any search may be saved as an alert or set up to automatically update the search results page.
CQ Online Congress offers a variety of features (such as alerts or vote analysis) that subscribers may tailor to their needs or interests. Among the bill-tracking tools are CQ BillTrack, which provides detailed bill histories, updated daily and including links to related bills; CQ BillWatch, which analyzes major bills in progress; CQ Votes, which breaks down every floor vote by member, party affiliation and other criteria; and customized vote analyses. Users may now customize the display of CQ BillTrack. The Appropriations Tracker combines news and commentary with legislative bills and documents affecting the budget.
Schedule information is extensive, providing daily updated listing of all scheduled floor, committee, and subcommittee actions, with agenda and time, location, and contact information. CQ On Congress sends out a free daily newsletter covering the day’s scheduled activities and summaries of the previous day’s events (the CQ Daily Monitor Midday Update, which is available to non-subscribers as well).
For members of Congress, CQ On Congress provides up-to-date profiles, contact information, fact files, and mailing labels. Committee information includes schedules, all open markups and many that are closed; witness lists, agendas and prepared statements for committee testimony; verbatim transcripts of committee hearings.
A free trial is available to individuals who monitor congressional activity.
HearingRoom.com: This service permits allows users to attend Congressional hearings without leaving the office. The real-time coverage option sends a streaming transcript of a hearing in progress (with a 10-15 minute delay) to the subscriber’s desktop, along with streaming audio of the event, which requires RealPlayer. The site’s technology makes it possible to “attend” a number of hearings simultaneously. The LiveWireAlert feature delivers an e-mail notice as soon as pre-entered keywords are spoken during a hearing.
Background information for each hearing (some of which is hyperlinked to relevant resources) includes witness lists and briefing materials, committee and subcommittee members, prepared testimony, and links to other primary materials. Hearings are available in the archives after 24 hours and are searchable by such criteria as keyword; the name of a committee or subcommittee; date/date range; member name and bill number. Transcripts are synchronously linked to the audio files, so that a user may search the text and click on a section of the results to hear the pertinent portion of the audio (instead of listening to the entire hearing). The site posts the schedules for the next two weeks of hearings in both chambers.
Potomac Publishing: Potomac Publishing Company’s ClearTrack application supplies fully current federal laws, as amended, and updated within a day or two of changes. ClearTrack’s version control feature displays the wording of a law at any time in its history. The site provides links for vote records and committee hearings. A limited demo is available at the site.
Potomac Publishing’s other Web-based products are the United States Statutes at Large and Potomac Publishing Company’s Law of the United States. The first collection begins with Volume I, 1789 and is updated by every August or September as new volumes are published by the Government Printing Office. Each update includes slip laws from the most recent past congressional session and statutes from the session that ended one to one and a half years previously. The second is a chronological listing of the descriptive titles and popular names of all U.S. public laws since 1789. This one is updated upon the publication of all public laws from a particular Congress.
Capitol Impact: Launched in January 2001, this site’s primary focus is Georgia. The Capitol Reports section of the site features political news stories, budget items, bill profiles with links to the full text, and profiles of legislators and state and agency officials. The C_Impact software tracks bills and budget items and generates vote analyses. Legislation tracking for other states and Congress is available in concert with GoverNet Affairs.
Capitol On-Ramp (Oregon): Users may search the full text of bills and set up custom tracking files. The service includes multiple daily reports, such as the status of current measures (highlighting tracked bills with status changes and disclosing the most recent activity for each); a detailing of the bills introduced on the previous day; a listing of bills up for a third reading and floor vote; and a list of tracked bills with activity scheduled in the upcoming seven days. Bills are cross-referenced to a list of affected statutes. A free demonstration is available on request.
LegWeb (California): Subscribers may retrieve bills by keyword, generate catalogs of bills by status, and add a note, position, priority level, and the name of a lobbyist to a tracked bill. Daily editorial content summarizes news from major papers in the state. A 30-day free trial is available.
MultiState Associates: MultiState Associates is a full-spectrum state and local government affairs service, offering legislative and regulatory monitoring, issue management, research, marketing to state and local governments, and legislative and administrative lobbying. It allows clients access to an online tracking system called State Tracking and Research Service (STAR). STAR is customized to the client’s research interests and is a tool that the client may use to supplement MultiState’s own research and analysis.
Free resources include charts of governors (with names and re-election years), legislatures (session dates, party splits, current session deadlines), calendar of meetings and events for state and local government affairs organizations; links to state legislature and city pages; and links to public policy groups, trade associations, professional societies, and newspapers
Ohio Chamber of Commerce: The LegiSeek system allows chamber members to retrieve the full text and analyses of state bills affecting business. The SmartAgent Tracker reports on selected bill activity by e-mail.
SGAIS Bill Tracking Software (Connecticut): This software program uses an Internet connection for creating legislation tracking lists and bill reports, searching legislation, and setting up e-mail alerts of action on bills being tracked. A demo is available.
State Capital Information Service (Illinois): Products include an online bill-tracking system (updated at least daily during sessions), daily reports of legislative activity, and twice-weekly reports of the governor’s actions. A legislative calendar is now available, showing committee meetings scheduled for bill hearings.
StateScape: This state legislative and regulatory research agency gives online access to reports, news and the text of bills pertaining to specified interests, as well as to session and leadership information. Users have the option of accessing a searchable database, in addition to using StateScape’s research. Web-based clients have an electronic communication system that allows adding notes, commentary, and questions to bills and regulations, which all members of a team may view and add to, regardless of their location. E-mail alerts may be set up for activity on designated bills. The site provides a free sample search which requires disclosing some personal information first. Without registering, it’s possible to generate sample legislative and regulatory reports on some 20 subjects, in any one jurisdiction (or all).
StateScape also offers consulting services, public relations management, and one-time “snapshot” reports on any regulatory, legislative, or statutory topic, within any state or locality geographic designation.
Stateside Associates: This company offers an array of state and local services, including legislative and regulatory monitoring and government relations management. E-mail alerts are available for local government actions. The site’s free resources consist of “snapshot” information about the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, partisan split, and session calendar of each state. This Week in the States encapsulates major governmental activity planned in each state for the current week.
©Kathy Biehl 2001. All Rights Reserved. Portions of this column are excerpted from the Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research (Scarecrow Press), by Kathy Biehl and Tara Calishain.