New Website Lets Citizens Comment On Proposed Bills In Arizona Legislature
Want to keep tabs on your lawmakers and not even have to get out of your pajamas?
You can — if you have a computer.
A website maintained by the Arizona Legislature has a full rundown of proposed new laws, amendments to proposals, and even the roll-call votes in committees and on the floor.
But it's even more interactive than that.
One function of the website allows people not only to watch hearings but even sign in to "testify'' for or against measures, all without making the trek to the Capitol.
It starts at the main legislative web page: azleg.gov.
On the main page is a calendar of events.
But the real detail starts under the "bills'' menu. Here the new bills are listed by number, in batches of 50, divided between House and Senate bills.
Want more information on any of them? Clicking on the specific bill presents several options, including an overview, the status of where it is in the process, and a documents button where you can see the introduced version and, as the session goes on, added amendments and changes.
There's also a section called "RTS Current Bill Positions.'' That's a list of who has signed in for or against the measure, a feature that does not usually get filled until a bill is scheduled for a hearing. More about that in a minute.
Not sure of the bill number? Enter a keyword in the search.
So, for example, if you were to put in the word "marijuana,'' 11 bills already filed for the session would pop up. These range from SB 1015 dealing with pesticide use on medical marijuana, to HB 2049 expanding the conditions for which doctors can recommend marijuana for patients.
More bills can be filed in the next few weeks.
You can view the measure in PDF or HTML format. And when a bill gets set for a hearing, there's a link to a staff explanation of what it would do.
Also on that main page are links to the agendas of upcoming standing committees. That enables you to poke through what hearings are coming up and what bills are on that day's agenda.
And what if you have something to say?
One option is to drive to the Capitol, sign in to speak and have your say. How long you might get depends on the whims of who is chairing the committee.
But there's a less direct — and less cumbersome — method of putting in your two cents. And it goes to that RTS system, short for "request to speak.''
On the main legislative page is a pull down menu for legislative information, with the first option being that request to speak.
Clicking on that will result in a page asking you to sign in.
Don't worry if you don't have a username or password. They're easy to create. But you might consider doing that now, before you suddenly need it.
That leads to a whole different page where there's a menu on the left side to create a new request to speak, see what you're already sign in for and against, and search for upcoming agendas on that issue.
You will need to know the bill number or, at the very least, the name of the committee where it is scheduled to be heard.
But here's the thing: You can register in support or opposed to a specific bill. And you can even explain why.
In any case, your name and position is shared with the legislators on the committee and becomes part of the record.
Sometimes having a bunch of people signed in remotely supporting or opposing a bill can have some influence. But those with strong feelings might consider that personal testimony, where lawmakers can ask you questions, is generally much more effective.
And, to be totally honest about it, understand what lobbyists already know: It's helpful to contact lawmakers ahead of any vote, whether in person, by mail or phone. Very often by the time the committee actually meets most legislators already have made up their minds.
You also can actually watch committee meetings and floor actions as they unfold.
The link is under the House button on the main page, then click on "live proceedings.'' You will, however, need to know in which room the hearing is taking place, information that can come from the agenda.
Oh, on that prospect of contacting lawmakers directly, the main legislative page has office phone numbers and links to direct email under both the House and Senate member lists.
One more thing: Legislators are likely to be far more responsive to inquiries and messages that come from their own constituents.
But if you're not sure who represents you, there's also a "find my legislator'' button on both the House and Senate membership pages.
If that's not an option, there's one more ultimate fallback: The legislature maintains a toll-free number of (800) 352-8404. You can not only dial a lawmaker by name or number but also can reach the House or Senate operator who can help figure out who represents you.