Civic Engagement Is Hard
February 6, 2017 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm going all in with this civic engagement, #resist thing. But how do I best keep track of what my state senate and assembly are up to?

I live in Los Angeles, California. I have, in the past, been satisfied with paying only the usual amount of attention to local legislation/local news and doing most of my research into my local state representatives whenever election time rolls around, because for the most part, I've been able to trust that my local state reps won't do anything monstrous. I still trust that they won't, but if I'm gonna do this civic engagement thing, I'm gonna do it at all levels. I want to make sure my state reps hear from me too about important issues.

How do I best keep track of what's going on in the state legislature? I know about the state's official legislative info site but I find it difficult to navigate in terms of figuring out what bills are in the process of being made into law, and at what point in the process it's worth contacting my rep about them. Like right now I'm trying to figure out if it's worth contacting my reps about SB 31 and SB 54.

Are newspapers like the LA Times or Sacramento Bee my best bet? Am I just woefully ignorant about state government and I'm missing something obvious?

posted by yasaman to Law & Government (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Hi, fellow Californian! I'm also a beginner to this, so I apologize if this is super obvious, but I started following my state senator and assembly member on Facebook and signed up for their newsletters. (This mainly works because as you say, I don't think they're going to do anything monstrous that they'll hide from social media, so it's just a way to keep up with the things they're doing that they do want to broadcast.) I also follow a handful of statehouse members from other districts who have come to my attention for whatever reason (so if they introduce a bill that I like, I can write to my reps and ask them to support it). I don't know how engaged you are planning to be, but my bar for engagement is very low: if I hear about something that I have an opinion about, I write to them. I don't put a ton of effort into those emails, so for something like your example, it'd probably take me way longer to figure out exactly where in the process those bills are and whether it's worth making noise about than it would to just shoot off an email. Luckily the media seems to like to report on state bills that specifically target Trump or his policies, so it's fairly easy to catch wind of those and write to my reps about them.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2017

apologies if this is redundant for you: when I had similar frustrations about keeping track of upcoming bills, I bookmarked Open States specifically because its layout was easy and info was clear (but also detailed if I wanted to click through to actual bill text, PDFs, etc.). for example, selecting California and scrolling down you can see the most "Recently Introduced" and "Recently Passed" bills for both Senate and Assembly, with links to individual lists (arranged by date, most recent at the top).

so you could bookmark the individual "Recently Introduced" page and check it regularly, or even set it as your browser homepage so that you see the top introduced automatically, and decide whether you wanna keep tabs on it and/or contact reps about it...

I think does it too, also a fairly clear layout. You can look at the Bills & Resolutions "Coming Up" tab and see the most recently introduced. and two tabs over there's lots of links for how to get alerts on a particular bill or issue.
posted by cluebucket at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Indivisible has a bunch of local groups, which presumably have a lot of information about what's happening locally (some of which may have national import, e.g. if your senator or rep is having a town hall).
posted by nat at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I live in a liberal county in a liberal state. My county commission lobbies the state on issues that are of importance to them. I track the county's legislative briefs. I don't always 100% agree with the county's positions, but the briefs are clear and easy to understand.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:51 PM on February 6, 2017

I work on California legislation for my job. Here are a few overall pointers and THANK YOU for stepping up and engaging on the state level as well as nationally.

leginfo, which you've already found, is the best place to start. Use the "status" tab to see where a bill is at the moment. You can also use the "add to my favorites" and "track bill" links. "Track bill" will send you an email when anything happens with the bill - scheduled for a committee hearing, voted on, etc.

SB = Senate bill. AB = Assembly bill. As at the federal level, each bill starts in one house and passes to the next one. Unlike at the federal level, there are a set of internal deadlines that bills need to reach. E.g. bills can only be introduced until Feb 17 this year, and must pass out of the first house by June 2nd, or else they are dead for the year.

I'm happy to answer specific questions, if I can. I work on a narrow handful of issues and am not an expert on the budget process, but I'll answer them if I can. It's never a bad thing to contact your legislators about a bill, even if it's not in front of them now. The other useful thing is to find a state organization working on the issue and sign up for their action alerts.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:37 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have an app called Countable that notifies me whenever my reps are going to vote on something, tells me what's coming down the pipe that week, lets me send my opinion directly to my reps, etc. It works!

P.S. Missed the part where you wanted to know what was going on at the state level...Countable doesn't handle that quite as well, yet.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:47 PM on February 6, 2017

Oh, Open States is way easier to navigate than the state's official website, thank you cluebucket.

Thank you gingerbeer! All those links look super helpful. Some follow up questions: what does it mean when a senate bill is referred or re-referred to another committee? Do bills just have to go through a bunch of committees before they go on the floor? Is it best to contact my rep about such a bill while it's still in committee, even if they're not on that committee, or when it's actually on the floor?
posted by yasaman at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2017

Yes. Each bill will get referred to one or more policy committees. "Double referred" means it has to go through two; I have a bill I'm working on that has to go to both Health and Public Safety, for example, but most bills only go to one. Then, depending on whether a bill is determined to have a fiscal impact or not (i.e. will cost money), it will get sent to a separate committee (Appropriations) to determine how much it will cost. That is a good place to kill a bill, as a lot of things get stalled there and never make it out.

If your rep is on the committee hearing the bill, that's definitely the best time to contact them. If they aren't on the committee, then the window between when the committee passes the bill and the floor vote is the best time. It's fine to contact them before that, but they pay less attention until they know they'll have to vote on it.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:56 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hey gingerbeer (or anyone), do you know a way for me to get alerted about upcoming bills by folks who have already vetted them? It's really helpful for me to be able to see what bills are coming up, but it would be even more helpful if organizations I trusted sifted through and told me what I should be supporting.

For example, I"m interested in housing. I occasionally get an email from some local housing non-profit that says "Here's a bill coming up about building more housing, call your rep!" but I can't figure out how to get this type of curated advice more consistently.

What I'm most interested in right now is affordable housing, homelessness, healthcare, and progressive tax reform (raising taxes/abolishing Prop 13) but also lots of other progressive causes. Do you know of orgs who's mailing lists I should get on, so they will alert me about bills I should throw my support behind?

Maybe this is too open ended a question - I'm sure there are a million mailing lists. In my ideal world there would be an equivalent to the various progressive voter guides that come out each election - to give me a heads up like, support this and this bill, oppose that and that bill.
posted by latkes at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2017

Yes, there are definitely groups doing exactly that kind of work and you can get on their email lists for action alerts and so on.

Here are a few that I know of:
Western Center on Law and Poverty
Friend's Committee on Legislation in California
California Calls
posted by gingerbeer at 8:52 PM on February 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

That was exactly what I was looking for gingerbeer. Got onto some mailing lists and added some twitter feeds - this will be really helpful.
posted by latkes at 9:45 AM on February 12, 2017

Glad that was useful. The Friends Committee in particular is designed to help with what you're asking for: alert people about bills and make it easy to contact your legislators . They are tireless in keeping an eye on things and weighing in on them. Throwing them some money would also be appreciated, as I know they run on a very tiny budget.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:46 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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