I'm happy to report I had a good weekend. I was invited to debate some of my bills on the radio as well as on a college campus. I am always excited to talk with people and I especially enjoy discussing issues with people in or near my district.
I did encounter one problem at these debates, namely those I was debating did not have current or accurate copies of my bills. This made it difficult to discuss and debate, and was not fair to either my bill or to those in attendance trying to understand the debate.
For instance, at the college forum, the only information given to the group was an academic bill of rights copy that was dramatically different from the one that I am sponsoring. So in this case, many times I found myself answering questions that were not relevant to my bill.
I did learn a lesson though. In the future I will take multiple copies of my bill or supporting documents in order to hand out to those involved in the debate as well as for those attending. I strongly feel people should be able to see what their representative is sponsoring whether they believe the bill to be good, bad, or even if they're indifferent.
Politicians usually say anything at election time, but their voting record and bill sponsorship should give the voter a good idea of where their politician stands and who or what they stand for-regardless of the passage of bills.
When I first arrived in Nashville, one of the first things I wanted to do was put a list of my bills online and allow constituents the opportunity to see them travel through the system. Some say this is stupid idea for a legislator-critics say you are just handing your opponent opposition research without making them work for it.
My theory however is that if what I am doing is good, than I have nothing to fear. When I first arrived, I wanted to let my constituents know how to find my legislation just by pulling up my name on the legislature's website.
For legislators like myself, we have what is called “bill tracking.” We can pull it up on our computers. I was excited to learn of bill tracking and told many of my constituents about it and they were eager to learn more about our Tennessee government. When I inquired about how to inform my constituents how to use bill tracking, I was dealt a painful blow.
I learned that “bill tracking” can only be done from our own computers (although these computers are owned by the taxpayers of Tennessee). I called information systems and was that told that people used to be able to pull up information by sponsor but when the new computer system came in, the “people in power” said for them NOT to add this ability.
Now the only way to pull a bill up is by number. This seems reasonable with the exception that we have about 4,000 bills!
Most citizens trying to get through the day to day chore of working and caring for themselves and their families, don't have time wade through 4,000 bills looking for the ones that may interest them.
Most people don't know the bill numbers either for the bills being sponsored by their representatives. Bills aren't listed by category either. In many cases, even the sponsors themselves don't know their bill numbers.
This information should be opened up further. Bills should be listed by category. It doesn't have to be specific, but for instance, “health care.” If constituents were able to see the bills being sponsored about health care, they would be able to read them and then talk with their representative about them.
There needs to be more transparency. If a representative is sponsoring a bill constituents should be able to commend or admonish, based on their own personal opinions. If you see a bill you like, you should be able to let your representative know that he should work to pass the bill. (We just witnessed the input about a gun bill that just got killed. I know a few legislators that have a target on their chest---no pun intended-for their anti-second amendment vote last week. But the important point is that voters should know where their representative stands.)
Computers should make constituent access to information easier, not more frustrating.
On another note, radio talk show host Phil Valentine in Nashville did a story on this blog and the stir it is creating. Terry Frank's column this week in the Courier News in Anderson County also mentioned me and this blog site and the good that blogging in general is doing for transparency and accountability in government. Thank you Phil and Terry!
Blogging is becoming the new media, and you-the bloggers-- are in on the ground floor! Keep up the good work true believers!