Keeping tabs on the Washington Legislature, which can feature competing floor sessions or dawn-to-dusk committee hearings, is challenging for denizens of the state capital but even more so for Spokane residents some 300 miles away.
The Internet and other technology make it easier than a generation ago, both for reporters in Olympia and for readers at home. Here are a few tricks of the trade used by the capital press corps:
Catch it live. Even from Spokane you can watch many floor debates and some committee meetings live, either on the cable television feed for TVW (Channel 25 on Comcast in Spokane) or, if your Internet connection is reasonably fast, on its website, tvw.org. TVW has a daily schedule on the website both for television and for webcasts.
When both houses are involved in floor action, the one that’s not on television is being carried on the website. When the chamber that’s on television takes a break – which happens sometimes without much warning and for an unpredictable length of time – the television feed switches to the other chamber.
Some days the legislative agenda is pretty light, so you’ll see canned reports on the state’s lighthouses or courthouses, recent news conferences or Supreme Court arguments. Other days, one chamber may be debating a hot topic while the other chamber has a full slate of committee hearings.
Catch it later. While most people have seen TVW broadcasts while flipping through the cable channels, not as many are familiar with the network’s archive system. It saves floor sessions by date and hearings for nearly every House and Senate committee. The hearings are arranged by day and committee, and list at least some of the bills discussed. It’s possible to search for hearings or action on a bill by its number. Video of a hearing usually shows up on the site a few hours after it concludes.
Use the state resources. After all, you help pay for them. The Legislature’s website, leg.wa.gov, offers a wealth of information beyond phone numbers and addresses for lawmakers. The home page has a link on the left side for the bill information page, which is among the most useful for tracking legislation. If you know the bill number, enter it into the search window. You’ll get the legislative history, including vote counts, and links to the original bill and its changes.
If you don’t know the number, click on “search the full text of a bill,” which goes to an advanced search engine that allows you to find bills or statutes by topic for this and several past sessions. Check the box for “All Bills, Memorials and Resolutions” for the broadest search of session activity.
To get daily and weekly lists of hearings, click on “Sign Up for Updates” from the Legislature’shome page. The lists also show which sessions are expected to be broadcast live. TVW also webcasts several committee hearings live when the meeting schedule is packed, as it often is during the first month of the session.
To find out how much money is being spent and where it goes, use the site maintained by the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program at leap.leg.wa.gov. It shows the current budgets for state operations, capital projects and transportation, as well as past budgets since 1979. When new budgets are proposed, they go on the LEAP site.
Budget breakdowns also show up on fiscal.wa.gov, which is good for comparing spending for current things like public schools or government operations or natural resources with what each chamber proposed and passed. Users can search for state employee salaries by name or department, and another maps spending on transportation and capital construction projects by county and legislative district.
Use other websites. The caucuses in each chamber have their own blogs that tout the wonderful things their members are doing, with news releases and video clips. House Republicans have theCapitol Buzz, House Democrats the Advance, Senate Democrats the Hopper and Senate Republicans have Washington SRC. The Senate also has a page for the Majority Coalition Caucus, which is all the Republican senators plus Democrat Tim Sheldon, who isn’t listed anywhere on the Senate Democrats pages. Despite a different look, news on the Majority Coalition Caucus website is virtually identical to the Senate Republicans’ Web page.
All can be found from the main legislative site. There’s a fair amount of fluff, and for a balanced view on a controversial topic you’ll want to check all sides.
The Spokesman-Review will collect stories and columns about this year’s session onspokesman.com with a 2016 Washington Legislature tag.
Washington State Wire compiles government and business news from other news outlets and policy websites. Washington Votes has a good search engine for tracking which bills legislators introduce and support.
Many legislators and their staffs also use social media, as do most reporters. You can follow most legislators on Facebook or Twitter or look for #waleg, the hashtag that usually accompanies news tweets about legislative news before, during and after the session.