Using Opengovernment.org to understand your constituencies

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In continuing with our series on OpenGovernment.org, this time we take a look at how you can learn more about your state representative. What is your district for example? If you are among the six states already highlighted in the OpenGovernment.org state profiles, you can search for your district using either your address or zip code. You will then be provided with information on your state legislature including Senate and Assembly. In case you are not sure who your House of Representative or Senator (in Congress) is, the search also gives you specific results right up to the national level.

Using our earlier example of SB 22 as a bill that is still being deliberated on, we are going to do a walk through on how you can engage your legislature regarding this bill (or any other). A click through the ‘recent actions’ shows the bills that had the most recent action taken on them. We can see that SB 22 was sponsored by Joan Ballweg (R-41) , Garey Bies (R-1) and Alberta Darling (R-8). What is cool about OpenGovernment.org is that is shows the key sponsors of a bill and includes their profiles to illustrate what they are interested in and the issues that are important to them. At the same time, if you are curious about the status of the bill, you can tell that it was last voted on on September 12 and was referred to a joint committee on Finance by committee on Senate Organization, with 5 Ayes and 0 Noes.

OpenGovernment.org summarizes the issues within a bill, providing you with a better understanding of what the bill is all about. So for SB 22, the main issues are Labor and Employment, Senior issues, state agencies, education, business and Consumers and insurance. Say you are passionate about labor and employment issues, you can contact Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-41), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, either through her District or Capitol address letting her know how you feel regarding your particular issue. The background information on a specific legislator provided by the site enables citizens to make informed outreach to their leaders. And for bloggers or political writers, it is a resourceful way of staying on top of time sensitive bills while following the influence behind the legislators. Also, constituencies governed by Rep. Ballweg can track her legislative profile, and see that she is a member of the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Rules, the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, and, of course, the Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council. With this kind of information, you now know that she is one of the Representatives with major influence, whose vote you may want to influence — depending on what you are advocating for.

To top it all up, a history of all the bills that have been sponsored by a specific legislator, is displayed under ‘bills sponsored’. A quick look at the most recent bills sponsored by Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-41) all reveal that they all relate to education or insurance. The dynamics between legislators and their constituents does not always have to be complex. You can start by learning more about the people who draft the rules that govern you and Opengovernment.org helps you do just that!

In the next segment will talk about the most prevalent issues in states and how you can track the bills around them.

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