By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
Legislative-tracking services such as BillTrack50 (a CFOIC member organization) are great for getting information on bills making their way through the Colorado legislature and for following how each state lawmaker votes.
But how can you tell if a legislator votes for a bill that her constituency doesn’t like? Or if she votes against a bill that her constituency thinks is terrific?
A new service, launched in time for the 2015 session by former state Sen. Ron Tupa, is aimed at increasing citizen participation in Colorado’s legislative process. Digitdemos.com works like this: Users select a certain number of bills to keep tabs on (up to 25 at no charge), and they can weigh in on them at one or more of 12 stages.
If you like a bill when it’s introduced, but disagree with amendments tacked on in committee, you can change your vote. You can change it again if the original language gets restored in the other house. At any point you also can see how your state representative or state senator voted on the measure and easily send that lawmaker an email relaying your thoughts.
Eventually, you get a report showing how your legislator voted on a bill compared with how residents of his or her district voted on it.
“It’s a tool that the public can use to hold their legislators more accountable for votes taken on their behalf,” Tupa said. “There were 621 bills introduced last year. Four hundred, or something like that, passed. How many were citizens asked about? The answer, for 99.9 percent of citizens, is zero.”
During his 14 years in the House and Senate as a Democrat from Boulder, Tupa said he occasionally surveyed his constituents on high-profile topics such as medical marijuana, mandatory seat belts and concealed weapons. But surveys are expensive to conduct and response rates usually are low.
Digitdemos grew out of Tupa’s master’s thesis project, which examines the relationship between legislative voting behavior and public opinion. His research during the 2014 session showed “a striking disconnect” between how senators voted on SB 14-093, concerning the power of pipeline companies to acquire rights-of-way via eminent domain, and how their constituents felt about the proposal. Senators from both parties favored the bill while voters strongly opposed it, he said. The bill eventually died.
Survey results, of course, can be skewed by how a question is asked. Tupa said that he and his staff will strive to write bill summaries without a slant one way or another. “If I can present all points of a bill succinctly and in a fair way, I think the public will respond to that and both Democrats and Republicans won’t have a whole lot to complain about,” he said. “I don’t have a dog in the fight on any bill.”
Tupa plans to feature 200 to 300 bills during the 2015 session. To sign up, users must put in their home address so that digitdemos can compare their information to the state’s voter registration database. That way, results can be aggregated by party, county and legislative district. If you’re not registered to vote, you can still participate but must show that you live in Colorado.
Because digitdemos is a subscription-based company, to make it viable Tupa needs enough users willing to pay to track more than 25 bills per session. The cost for the first legislative session is $25 for a maximum of 50 bills and $50 for a maximum of 100.
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