Web database provides concise, objective, plain-English
descriptions of every bill, amendment, and vote

MIDLAND – At the end of 2002, for the first time in the history of any state or national legislature, every action of an entire legislative session, and every vote of every legislator, had been described in concise, plain English, and recorded in a searchable electronic public database. The feat was accomplished by MichiganVotes.org, a free public service of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

This year, in the first 100 days of the new 92nd legislature, MichiganVotes.org has described all 956 bills, 131 amendments, 149 resolutions, and 102 roll-call votes of the session. One bill has been signed into law.

Anyone with Internet access can search the legislative database by legislator, keyword, bill number, and 40 subject categories. Users can also create custom voting - record guides for senators or representatives. Citizens interested in particular issues, such as education, the environment, or property taxes can register for e-mail alerts of legislative action on those issues.

MichiganVotes.org manager Jack McHugh said recent upgrades allow users to view descriptions of House and Senate resolutions, searchable by legislator, keyword, number, and subject category. MichiganVotes.org users may also receive automatic e-mail notifications of action on resolutions.

“Resolutions add an important dimension to understanding the positions and records of legislators,” McHugh said. “While some are fluff, others are important declarations of principle or substantive policy proposals.” Among the latter he cited resolutions to extend term limits, cap university tuition, and require super-majority votes on tax hikes. A recent resolution required senators to take a position for or against the Iraq war, not just “in support of the troops,” he said.

Mackinac Center President Lawrence Reed said his organization’s “first-of-its kind public legislative database was not produced by government officials spending taxpayer dollars, but by a non-profit organization supported entirely by private, voluntary contributions.”

Reed believes MichiganVotes.org is elevating political dialogue in the Great Lakes State. “Politicians often use outrageous mischaracterizations of particular votes to tar opponents or puff their own records,” he said. “MichiganVotes.org gives citizens an instant truth meter by which they can measure the pronouncements of elected officials. The website levels the playing field between citizens and Lansing insiders.”

The idea is catching on. A nonprofit policy-research institute in Washington state has worked with Mackinac Center officials to launch WashingtonVotes.org for that state’s part-time legislature. Institutes in other states are also considering emulating the Mackinac Center’s service.

In the 2001-2002 legislative session, MichiganVotes.org described 2,200 roll call votes, 4,101 bills, 3,178 amendments, and 873 new laws.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational institute. It created MichiganVotes.org to inform citizens, community leaders, business people, journalists, and public officials about legislation that affects their families, schools, jobs and communities. The web site provides tools for citizens to take a more active part in the democratic process, and hold their elected representatives accountable.

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