Some Minnesota IT folks have put together TakeBackYourState.com. The website’s goal is to give voters “a forum to share their opinion on the bills being discussed and voted on by their State legislators.” Registered users (no cost) get a simple page that displays links to the full text of each bill in their state legislature. Currently, TBYS’s South Dakota page only links to the PDF of the final form of each bill from South Dakota’s now concluded 2017 Session.
The only apparent value TBYS adds over our Legislative Research Council’s simple and informative Session Bills page comes in a quick keyword search option* (restricted, it appears, to bill titles) and, the real fun, an opportunity to vote Yea or Nay and see cumulative results from other users.
TBYS sent launch notes to legislators around the country explaining their project. Senator John Wiik (R-4/Big Stone City) dismisses the project as an effort to present “distorted opinion”:
I would hope you’re offering my constituents links to the bill hearings, complete copies of the bill and complete background information on each bill you plan to offer up for public comment.
I understand people wanting to opine on legislation, and that’s fine. This is an entirely different animal you’re proposing. You’re plugging grassroots activists into a blind stream of partial information to attempt to persuade action on legislation without providing any background information.
I am a citizen legislator. 3 years ago, I was uninformed about the process and the bills that passed. I only got the information from the media and the legislature website. I never listened to the committee hearings or read all the background information. Now I do. I have to. I’m hired by these people to make those decisions for them. If they don’t like the decisions I’m making, they are free to fire me every two years.
I appreciate you trying to involve people in our process, but I will say this. Unless people are involved enough to have the same information in their possession that I have, your website is just another megaphone for distorted opinion and misguided activism.
Senator John Wiik District 4 South Dakota [e-mail, posted by Take Back Your State, 2017.05.02]
I agree that it is difficult to understand the real intent of some bills without hearing committee testimony and floor speeches and reading the related press coverage. For instance, a straight reading of the final text of Senate Bill 149 might not make clear that it was really an effort to codify religious discrimination against homosexuals, atheists, single moms, and other banes of Christian fundagelicals’ existence.
However, simply publishing the text of bills as submitted by Senator Wiik and his colleagues is no effort to distort the record. It is quite the opposite, an effort to let a legislative proposal speak for itself, in its own words. If a bill’s own text does not make clear its intent, is that not sufficient reason for conscientious citizens and legislators to vote it down?
There is also nothing misguided about providing citizens with the text of legislative proposals. That’s exactly what we demand of citizens when they circulate initiative petitions, under the idea that citizens should be able to read a bill and decide on the merits of that text whether they should allow the measure on the ballot.
Senator Wiik can’t really be worried about citizens having access to the text of Legislative bills, since that text is already available on the LRC website. I suspect Wiik’s real worry is that TBYS will attach citizens’ Yeas and Nays to those bills and provide one public metric of support for each bill. Yes, that metric will be self-selecting and biased… but no more so than the elections that have given Wiik his seat in the Legislature. And yes, the repeal of IM 22 this year shows that Wiik and his fellow Republican legislators don’t give one real hoot about what the majority of South Dakota voters want.
But Wiik’s negative reaction to TBYS’s effort to provide the most basic objective information possible about a bill—i.e., a bill’s own words—and attach one simple measure of public response to that bill shows how nervous South Dakota Republicans get when the voters have a chance to learn what’s happening in Pierre and make their voices heard.
*Update 17:58 CDT: Melissa Schoenberg of TBYS lets me know that if I just click on the little dropdown next to the search box, I can search by bill number and subject as well!