Wiik: Presenting Text of Legislation to Voters Distorts Opinions

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”:

Sen. John Wiik
Sen. John Wiik

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!

11 Responses to Wiik: Presenting Text of Legislation to Voters Distorts Opinions

  1. Porter Lansing

    Yeah, right Senator Wiik. And the lobbyists that buy you stuff aren’t “an effort to present “distorted opinion”? TakeBackYourState.com sounds fair and balanced. One sided lobbyist opinions don’t.

  2. I wonder if Wiik has formed an opinion on Obamacare without reading the whole law and listening to all of the congressional testimony? If so, did he base his opinion on news reports? Maybe he would agree that Fox News “is just another megaphone for distorted opinion and misguided activism.”

  3. mike from iowa

    If they don’t like the decisions I’m making, they are free to fire me every two years.

    Sounds like prophecy. Every 2 years Dems vote to replace wingnuts and every 2 years wingnuts keep getting re-elected.

    What a vicious cycle.

  4. I can’t say I like or dislike this project.

    Given just the text of the bill doesn’t give the entire picture. Some issues needs a couple of bills, or there is background information that is relevant. I’m all for giving the public more information, and getting them involved.

    I like the idea, it just isn’t complete. can we some how find a way to get supporting documentation uploaded, then you might have something

  5. LRC already records testimony, MC. Maybe you can get them to include links to any supporting documentation distributed on bills. There’s a project for you.

  6. and I would supportive of including any PowerPoint presentations be made available.

  7. MC, Ror, I support making the documentation on the LRC website as complete as possible. I’d like to see those slideshows and every other document shared in committee placed online, so we can see every shred of information submitted to influence legislators’ votes. The Appropriations hearing documents are a great asset for folks following that committee; other committees should provide a similar service.

    I would also like to see the citizen input that TBYS is introducing in elemental form with the user votes. Run an online poll alongside each bill. Require users to register to vote on those polls. Clear the poll each time the bill is amended, so each poll reflects votes on the same text. Include a comment section, strongly filtered, of course, against foul language.

    LRC could help inform citizen input by including links to news articles and other online information relevant to each bill. LRC can exercise editorial control for quality and relevance—maybe restrict the RSS feed to South Dakota media: Bob Mercer’s reports, James Nord and AP, SDPB Statehouse articles, six newspapers (Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Pierre… Mitchell and Yankton?), four radio stations, and two blogs chosen by LRC for balance and quality (I recommend me and, if he returns to blogging, Ken Santema). LRC could feature a sponsor’s statement and, if one can be recruited, and opponent’s statement from a legislator.

    How much of that can you get the legislature to do, MC?

  8. Porter Lansing

    Great suggestions.

  9. Porter Lansing

    …cont. ~ Polling voters as legislation progresses through committee is brilliant (along with voter registration mandates). Not that it ever happens *wink wink but lobbyist influence would be apparent when it obviously has swayed a decision. Comments from both sides are always useful when making a decision and even majority legislators are swayed by valid polling. Comments could become a defacto “voter’s lobbyist tool’.

  10. Kathy Tyler

    “Distorted opinion”…sorry I have to laugh. Those are the types of opinions (and an outright lie or two) used in his legislative campaigns in order to win. People are smart, give them access to information.

  11. Kathy, you should read some of Wiik’s bill text on the campaign trail next year and ask Wiik if that text (especially his resolution in favor of Keystone XL) constitutes distorted opinion.