It’s started folks, the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session is here, as of Feb 1. Working in the Governor’s office I could feel the wave building, a collective anticipation of the impending deluge of legislative concerns around the office. I won’t say that folks braced for impact, but there was the feeling of straightening of shoulders and a clearing of decks.
Already one week of the session has passed and I’ve already learned so much about how government works. Before Session, I knew in the back of my mind that bills introduced to the legislature would be posted online, or would at least be subject to public records requests. I hadn’t ever gone looking for what my legislators were up to or what issues where the topic of discussion in the halls of the Capitol. If I came across legislation at all, it was filtered through an advocacy group telling me I should care about it via an email or a petition circulated through social media.
Now, especially given the increased interest in activism since the Presidential election in November, I tell everyone I know to go searching. Until very recently, I was in the position of not quite knowing how to find out what’s happening in the Oregon legislature. Fear not, here are three steps to get plugged in:
Step one: Find out who’s introducing what. Go to the Oregon State Legislature’s Oregon Legislative Information System https://olis.leg.state.or.us. On the top left corner, you can click “Bills” and you can search by bill text (that’s keywords), bill sponsor (that’s which legislator(s) supports the bill by sponsoring it) or by bill number (good for if you’re already familiar with a bill from another source, like a newspaper article). If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you might guess that I searched “ocean” right away and you’d be correct (26 bills with some mention of ocean in the text!).
Step two: Do some research. You can read the bill on OLIS…they often aren’t nearly as dense and unreadable as you might think. You can read about any considerations regarding financial impact on various industries. If the bill has received any hearings in committees* you can read summaries and testimonies. You can even WATCH a video or live feed of the hearing! On the subject of committees, once a bill is introduced (or “dropped” if you’re hip to the lingo), it gets assigned to a committee of legislators with knowledge of the subject area. Figure out what committee your bill of interest is in.
Do an internet search for the bill or the associated keywords and see who’s talking about it. Maybe there’s an analysis or opinion from a news organization, or an advocacy group which you could read critically to inform your opinion. Talk to your friends and family (civil discourse y’all…) and see what they think. Is there a bill that you like or don’t like a whole bunch?
Step three: Tell your legislators what YOU think (find your legislator and their contact info here). Which legislators are on the committee considering the bill? Contact them too. Is the bill up for a hearing? Go testify at the hearing, or if that’s logistically unfeasible or too intimidating, submit some written testimony (on the committee page there is a link to an “exhibit email”).
They listen, truly. I know because I’m now occasionally party to citizens telling their government what they think about the decisions being made. Sometimes folks voice their support for a decision or a bill. More often, folks speak up when they don’t like something. Maybe that’s human nature.
Go forth and be informed!