Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Olympia Newsriver launches next week

As many readers undoubtedly know, the 2011 legislative session will convene in Olympia in just a week. Because this session takes place in an odd-numbered year, it will run for one hundred and five days (not counting weekends) and the principal task at hand will be crafting a budget for the next two years.

To help bolster our movement's legislative advocacy efforts, we at NPI have created a new website which makes bill tracking easy. It's called the Olympia Newsriver. It's been in development for a few months, and our goal is to have it ready to go by next Monday, when the session officially kicks off.

What the Newsriver does is track bill activity by topic, obviating the need to check dozens of different bill pages for updates.

Let's say your primary focus as an activist is ensuring that Washingtonians have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Instead of having to memorize the various bill numbers and visit the half-dozen or more bill pages that correspond to the 2011 environmental priorities, you can simply go to the Newsriver and browse the latest actions for Our Environment, in reverse chronological order.

Actions are simply things that happen to bills during their life in the legislative process. For instance, a bill is introduced. Or a hearing is scheduled on the bill. Or it is given a "do pass" recommendation in executive session.

The Newsriver will track priority bills that are considered likely to have a chance of being moved during session (in other words, bills that are not guaranteed to simply die in committee). If you're not sure whether the Newsriver is tracking a particular bill, you can check the master list on the sidebar. If you know of a bill that it is not on the list but should be, you can request that we add it.

Each bill action report will look something like this:

HB 1021 — Action #01 – December 13, 2010 – Prefiled for introduction.

The first element is the bill number. House bills start with HB, and Senate bills start with SB. The second element is the action report number; this refers to the action's place in the sequence of events. The third element is the date of the action, and the fourth describes the action.

Bill numbers are always linked for easy access to the Legislature's website. To see what a bill is about, simply mouse over the action item, and a hidden description will magically appear, like so:
Official summary: Concerning persons appointed by the court to provide information in family law and adoption cases.
Bill descriptions are hidden by default to make the Newsriver more compact, but they're always there when you need them.

The magic is made possible by cascading style sheets (CSS), so if you browse with Javascript disabled, don't worry. The mouseover will still work.

The Newsriver is not intended to replace the Legislature's website. It is an aggregator, like its sister project Pacific NW Portal, which turns five this month. The Newsriver was created to do the hard work of sifting through the Legislature's website for you, so you can spend more time lobbying or taking care of responsibilities and obligations.

We hope you'll enjoy the project and help us make it even more useful.

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