For and by the people
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If you watch your local news, then you have a greater chance of learning what your state legislature is doing than someone who watches a cable news channel. However, both the local station’s coverage and the local newspaper are going to deliver old news. By the time you find out, something important could have happened to move a bill along or you may have missed a public hearing.
There are easier ways to learn what is going on in the legislature than hanging out in the capitol building and attending floor sessions, and these take less time then sitting through the same meetings on Wisconsin Eye. One of the easiest ways to stay in touch with what is going on is by using the Notification Service.
The notification service allows you to set up searches for keywords or phrases, people, bill numbers or topics which interest you. Whenever something happens that contains what you are searching for, you get an email. This email contains your search, the actions which contain the search terms you are using and what is happening, if a bill is going to a committee, being sent to the governor or a public hearing is scheduled.
The emails provide links to the full text of the bill, who introduced it and the rest of a bill’s history. You can return at any time to the notification service page as long as you allow it to store a cookie on your computer, and make modifications to your search terms, add new ones or remove old searches which no longer apply. This is a good way to follow a few important topics and best of all, you don’t have to do anything once it is setup.
There may be times when you want to learn about a bill or resolution your not searching for. Then, you should go to the proposals page. This page lists every single proposed bill and resolution for both houses of the state legislature. If you select the text of a single item on this page, and then click its title near the top of the page, you will be taken to the action’s history page. This is where you can see if a bill is stuck in committee or if it has been voted on.
Back on the main page you can find out who your representatives are by entering your address. Each Assembly member or State Senator have their own page and give you at least one way to reach out to them. Email and phone can be the easiest for most people but can be the least satisfying because of how impersonal it can be. Even when you reach a person on the telephone, it is often a member of the staff. Still I advocate that people send those emails and make those calls because that shows that people are watching what is going on.
The best way to reach your elected representatives, at all levels, is to meet them where they are. Go to the town hall meetings, go to events where they are or meet them at their offices. Be sure to bring them your questions and concerns. Tell them what you think, how you feel, because that is how they best know what their constituents, voters like you, need from their government.
The more people participate in government at all levels, the better our government works for all people. Keep it cordial, even when it’s hard. Keep it respectful, even when you can’t stand the person on the other side of the table. Why? If you attack your opponents, it gives them something to attack you back with. If you disagree with something that an elected official is doing or saying, express your opinions, show the facts, make them work hard for them to discredit you and your arguments. If you rant and rave with far out opinions and unprovable theories no one has any reason to listen to you.
In government, we need level, reasonable heads who listen to the people who elect them. If they cannot make something happen the way their constituents want, they should be able to explain why it cannot happen, or why it needs to be moved down the road for a better time.