Many advocates I have spoken with are always impressed with how up-to-date on legislation we are at Advocacy Associates. Well, it is our job to know these things, but there is no reason any interested citizen cannot stay up to date on the latest congressional actions. The following are a few tools that will help you stay informed.
1. Word of Mouth. Unfortunately, this resource is unavailable to many of you simply because you are not in DC. This is not because of special interests or some crazy conspiracy. Much like there is movie gossip in Los Angeles that cannot be found elsewhere, there is unique political gossip in Washington that is not duplicated in blogs, magazines, or newspapers. This is why many people here are extremely careful about what he or she says. Reminds me of that old 1940s motto, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
2. CQ BillTrack. This is a key tool of every legislative monitor. This service tracks bills as they make their way through the process. You will see which committees the bills have been referred to, hearings about the bill, etc.
3. Thomas. A free service provided by the library of congress, this site allows you to plug in a bill number and find out critical information such as legislation text, cosponsors, summaries, actions taken on the bill, etc. It is not as quick to update as CQ, but it is very helpful if you want to lookup past or current bills.
4. Opencongress.org. Another site that provides similar information to the above mentioned sites. It was founded by the sunlight foundation in order to encourage civic engagement. The site is very intuitive and provides unique bill searches such as most viewed, most in the news, and rushed bills. This free resource site also provides information on Representatives and Senators such as contact info, voting history, campaign contributions, and much more.
As a final thought, I would STRONGLY caution against depending solely on main stream media outlets to keep you informed on legislation. News stations do not cover legislation until the last minute in order to create a sense of urgency and therefore a more exciting story. They also carry political bias. Do your own research so you can form your own opinion and advocate in all stages of the legislative process.