Washington residents who want to keep track of what the Legislature is doing for them - or to them - need not cross the Cascades to Olympia.
They can make the trip through cyberspace.
The Internet provides several Web sites that track legislation and provide information.
(All Web site addresses listed in this story start with http://, but because most versions of computer browsers assume those letters, we won’t put them on the addresses.)
The first address to remember is the Legislature’s home page: www.leg.wa.gov/
It offers links to home pages for the Senate or the House, and provides bill information. The home pages for each chamber contain phone numbers, addresses and background information for legislators. Most lawmakers also have e-mail.
Don’t know who your legislators are? The site will tell you if you type in your zip code.
Bill information, at www.leg.wa.gov/www/bills.htm, gives a daily status report that tracks bills and leads to lists of files that offer the full text of bills, a separate analysis with background and summary, and bill history. If you know the bill’s number, you can find it in those lists.
If you don’t know the number but know the topic, use the Bill Search engine. Type one or more key words into the box provided, and it lists files on all bills with those words in them. The six-digit code at the end of each line is the month, day and year the file was last updated.
Some topics yield only a few “hits,” while others provide dozens. Typing “mammoth” into the search engine to check the effort to name the woolly mammoth as the state fossil yields three different files on the same bill, which remains stuck in a House committee. Typing “growth management” brings up 157 options on bills that mention one of last session’s hot topics.
Gov. Gary Locke’s home page, www.wa.gov/governor, reports his schedule and offers detailed views of his major initiatives. It currently has an in-depth look at his 1998 supplemental budget proposal.
Locke, too, has an e-mail link on his Web site, as well as a chart of which bills he’s signed, which he’s vetoed and the veto messages he sent the Legislature.
The Citizens Guide to the Washington State Legislature is a private site maintained by former state Rep. Dave Chappell, D-Centralia. It offers links to the government sites, to the laws the Legislature approves, known as the Revised Code of Washington, and laws the bureaucracy makes, the Washington Administrative Code. It’s at www2.localaccess.com/chappell/Olympia_legislature/guide.htm.
Chappell offers good explanations of how the Legislature works, the importance of the majority and how a bill becomes law.
TVW, the cable television service that broadcasts hearings, debates and some Olympia news conferences, has a Web site at www.tvw.org/. It offers links to government sites and lists of events the service is broadcasting. Remember when checking the TVW broadcast schedule that Spokane viewers of Cable Channel 5 have legislative coverage pre-empted by the City Council on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and by the County Commission on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
With a powerful-enough computer and a fast-enough modem, you can listen to some events live and watch or listen to others.
Serious cyber citizens can go beyond the standard sites to get extra information. The state Public Disclosure Commission has placed on line all its files for contributions to all state officials, the names of all lobbyists and their employers, and the monthly lobbying expenses. Check them out at www.washington.edu/pdc then click on 00index.text for the key to the long list of files.
Some of the files are so voluminous that they are compressed or “zipped.” To expand or “unzip” them requires PKUNZIP software, which is fairly common. The PDC site provides it for those who don’t have it.
Dozens of groups and agencies compile their own lists of links to state government and political sites. Among the most usable the Spokane Public Library’s, at www.spokpl.lib.wa.us/gov/state/state.html.