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The legislative process and you

Have you ever wondered what your representative or Senator is doing in Congress, what is the status of a bill is you heard about on the news, or even learn how bills become laws? Well, if you want to go the next step and find out what is happening in Washington then you are in luck as there is a very good resource out there waiting for you to utilize; it is GovTrack.

The best part of this website is you can personalize it according to your needs and interests. The website will then seamlessly send you the information you need to your Inbox. In this first of a three-part series, I first would like to introduce you to the website and its powerful features that can help you learn everything you would need to know about Congress.

When you first go to GovTrack you will find the following links at the top of the page: Home, Bills & Votes, Legislators, Using GovTrack, and About Us. Except for the Home link, each of these links have drop-down boxes that provide detailed information about the site. Clicking on each of these links will provide you with a world of information about our Federal Government and those who represent us.

Bills and Votes: There are five sub-links divided into two sections. In the first section, the first, Bills and Resolutions will tell you everything you would need to know about bills in Congress from what’s trending to finding a particular bill of interest or even a category or subject area of interest. The second, Roll Call Votes, documents the many votes Congressional members take daily. As an interesting side note, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene noticed when she came to Congress that House bills and resolutions routinely passed or failed not by recorded vote but by an up or down voice vote where individual votes were not recorded. She, with the help of the Freedom Caucus, changed that process so now you will see recorded votes on every piece of legislation. Many representatives did not like this because it forced them to time away from their day to go down to the Chamber to vote and have their vote recorded. Accountability!

The second section of Bills and Votes deals with the basics of laws from how a bill becomes a law to Congressional Procedures. I suggest you spend some time learning more about laws and how Congress operates. For example, I often wondered how members of Congress communicate with other members on issues or resolutions. They use a process that dates back over a hundred years called “Dear Colleague” letters. You can find it under the Congressional Procedures tab. Very interesting!

Legislators: There are four sub-links divided into two sections. In the first section, the first sub-link, Members of Congress, lets you find any member of Congress using either the interactive map, entering your address, by state, or by clicking on individual links to members of Congress. This page also will give you a collective overview of both the House and Senate. Very interesting information can be found on this page.

The next link, Congressional Committees, is where bills and resolutions normally move forward to consideration by the House or Senate as a whole. This is where bills historically were introduced, debated, and marked-up by committee members working together before bills were ready for House or Senate consideration. For those following the Washington scene, that process has been high jacked in the House and now Senate with the Democrats in power. Bills are still introduced using the committee process but Republicans have had much less say in the initial wording of bills. Democrats have used their partisan lobbyists in crafting many of their bills. Committee Chairmen are very powerful and can dictate what is both debated and included in final bills before Floor debate and vote. It is not a stretch to say House Democrat Committee Chairmen in this Congress reflect the will of the Speaker of the House which is a major reason for the polarization in Congress today.

This link is useful as it lists every House and Senate committee. Clinking on a Committee link will provide you information on each member of the committee, including bills, reports, and a listing of Sub Committees. This is a good area to find bills that match your area of interest.

The last section of Legislators addresses Misconduct Database and COVID-19 in Congress. The Misconduct Database is very interesting and goes into detail on identified misconduct for individual members. You will also find a historical overview of Congressional misconduct from the late 1700s to today. In looking at documented misconduct one has to remember who has had control of the House of Representatives these last four years.

The Covid-19 in Congress link will tell you which members of Congress either were exposed or tested positive for Covid-19 including the date of exposure or positive test. There is a graphical representation and a listing by members giving details of the event and action.

The last link at the top of the main page is Using GovTrack. I will use this tab in the last part of the series but next, I will cover our Oklahoma delegation.

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