How to Track Legislative Memes

Legislation is how ideas are put into a format that Congress can process and transform into law. Some ideas are introduced again and again, but in different formats or at different times. Some bills in one chamber of Congress may have a nearly identical version introduced in the other. The same bill can be introduced again and again over multiple Congresses until it is enacted into law. Or a group of legislative ideas can be rolled together into a larger legislative package.

I like to think of ideas contained in legislation as legislative memes, which is a powerful way to understand what Congress is doing. We are working on a legislative tool, call BillMap, that allows you to track legislative memes as they move through Congress.

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Recap of Bulk Data Task Force Meeting on July 14, 2021

The Bulk Data Task Force met on July 14, 2021, for the first quarterly meeting since October 2019, which is just before the COVID pandemic began. The virtual meeting included presentations from the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, GPO, the Senate, and Demand Progress Education Fund. Video from the 2-hour long proceedings are available here and slides from the presentations are available on GPO’s Innovation Hub. More than 100 people were pre-registered to attend the meeting.

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Statute Compilations Now Available in USLM

Today GPO announced that statute compilations are now available online (here) in USLM XML. A statute compilation is a document that contains a law originally passed by Congress and shows how later legislation has amended the law.

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Library of Congress to host virtual public forum on updates to legislative data services

The Library of Congress will host a virtual public form on federal legislative information services on September 2, 2021, starting at 1PM ET. RSVP here. This is the second — and last — forum required of the Library by House Legislative Branch Appropriators “to facilitate public input into the Library’s legislative information services and how they could be improved,” although we hope it is not the last. The Library was required to invite the public to the event and to summarize the comments and evaluate implementation of the suggestions in a report to be provided to appropriators.  

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The Recap: Library of Congress Virtual Public Forum

On September 10, 2020, the Library of Congress held a Virtual Public Forum on the Library’s role in providing access to legislative information. The forum was held at the direction of the House Committee on Appropriations pursuant to its report accompanying the FY 2020 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. Per the legislative language, there will be another forum scheduled prior to October 2021. There was widespread interest in the topic: according to the Library, several hundred people registered for the event. 

Prior to the forum, the Congressional Data Coalition and others sent a report containing more than two dozen recommendations concerning the Library of Congress’ legislative information services. They fell into five conceptual groupings: (1) Publish Information As Data; (2) Put the Legislative Process in Context; (3) Integrate Information from Multiple Sources; (4) Publish Archival Information; (5) Collaborate with the Public. 

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Recommendations to the Library of Congress: Legislative Information Services and How They Could Be Improved

In anticipation of next week’s Virtual Public Forum hosted by the Library of Congress, we submitted the following recommendations to the Library of Congress on how it could improve its Legislative Information Services. The report is available online here. The recommendations cover the following five categories:

  • Publish Information as Data
  • Put the Legislative Process in Context
  • Integrate Information from Multiple Sources
  • Publish Archival Information
  • Collaborate with the Public

What’s in the FY2018 House legislative branch appropriation?

By: Casey Burgat

The House Appropriations Committee approved Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations via a June 29 voice vote. The bill calls for $3.58 billion of funding for House and joint-chamber operations (Senate-specific items are not included), a full $100 million more than the enacted FY2017 funding levels. It should, however, be noted that the FY2018 appropriation is much lower than the appropriation of FY2010.

On the same day, the committee released a full report explaining the appropriating rationale.

What is actually included in the bill? Who won and who lost the funding battles?

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New Madison Prizes to Honor Compromise in Congress

Rep. David Skaggs and his wife Laura established a new award for legislators who advance the public interest through compromise. More details (press release) below.

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The Constitution (Annotated) In Your Pocket

After a powerful speech by Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention, sales of pocket U.S. Constitutions have skyrocketed, becoming the second best selling book on Amazon. This is great! But the words of the Constitution are unsufficient to provide an understanding into how it has been applied by the courts over the last two centuries. That’s where the Constitution Annotated comes it.

The Constitution Annotated (aka CONAN) is a plain language explanation of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Published by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service at the direction of Congress, CONAN provides insight into the meaning of our founding document. It also is available online as of 2013 and can downloaded as an app for your phone (iPhone) (Android is under development).

Unfortunately, there are flaws with CONAN — not the content, but how it’s made available to you. First, CONAN is published as PDF files, which makes it all but unreadable on your phone. The app is virtually worthless. Blast. Second, while CONAN is continuously updated by the folks at CRS, what’s available on the website and the app is not. Information can be a year or more behind recent court opinions. This is a travesty, especially when the information is readily available on the congressional intranet and the document is prepared in a format that allows for immediate updates.

We’ve been trying to fix this problem. Believe me. I’ve written about this at least once a year for eight years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), usually on my birthday, Constitution Day. And I’ve lobbied on it. We did finally get CONAN published online, after an enormous effort which resulted in this letter from the Senate Rules Committee to the Government Publishing Office. But CONAN still is not being published online as it is updated, and it’s still not published in a format that would support an app or sophisticated website.

As a result, people are reading highly-biased interpretations of the Constitution instead of the legal treatise that by law must be evenhanded and impartial, and is paid for by your tax dollars.

Maybe the Senate Rules Committee, the Government Publishing Office, and the Library of Congress will move to make the Constitution Annotated available online, in real time, and in a format that human and computers can use. At a moment with so many people are interested in the Constitution, Congress should make sure that everyone has access, electronically and otherwise.

House of Reps’ Spending Info Is Now Online as Data

Yesterday the House of Representatives began publishing its spending data online as a spreadsheet (and continued publishing it online as a PDF file).

As Josh Tauberer explains in Open Government Data: The Book, the compilation of spending data, known as the Statements of Disbursements, includes “how much congressmen and their staffs are paid, what kinds of expenses they have, and who they are paying for those services.” While it does not contain all the nitty-gritty details, the Disbursements data can tell you a lot about the health and activities of Congress.

Yesterday’s publication includes the full dataset for the first quarter of 2016 in a 17.8 MB CSV file, and a smaller 502 KB summary file in CSV format. The information is also published as a PDF, which it has been since November 2009.Continue Reading