reports about new bills before the Legislature often read as if the intent
behind them is the same as what they will actually accomplish. For example,
readers might see a story headlined, "Bill would increase tool-and-die jobs."
Such is the hope of its sponsors. But would it actually increase such jobs?
Depends on the specifics. Frequently, press reports contain no real information
about the actual requirements, prohibitions or economic favors a bill would
Fortunately, Michigan citizens no longer have to depend on such reports in order
to monitor what their representatives in Lansing are up to.
is a free website developed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that
provides concise, objective, plain-English descriptions of what every single
bill, amendment and vote in the Michigan House and Senate would
actually do. These descriptions are searchable and sortable by legislator,
topic, bill number, keyword, or a combination of these.
The site is totally unique — nothing similar exists
at any level of government, including Congress. It empowers citizens by
allowing them to quickly create a custom "voting record guide" for any lawmaker
on any issue.
It also helps
to fill the information gap between what bills intend and what they do. To
MichiganVotes.org’s bill descriptions often include some
context, so that users get an accurate picture of what’s really going on. A good
example is the site’s description of
House Bill 5883, adopted in July of 2002, which withdrew money from the
state "rainy day fund" to close a budget deficit.
how the withdrawal would likely cause the postponement of a scheduled phase-out
of the state’s value-added tax on business, the so-called "Single Business Tax."
particular bill, providing context required that the description writer have
extensive background information. Other times it’s enough to simply quote
verbatim key provisions of a bill. In either case,
serves up straight information about the changes a bill would make in the law.
Each citizen can judge for him or herself what the outcome might be in the real
MichiganVotes.org itself actually do what its creators intend? It may be too
early to tell for sure, but leaders from all sides of the political spectrum
have praised the site. For example, Democratic ex-Rep. Lynn Jondahl, executive
director of the avowedly liberal Michigan Prospect, a non-profit public policy
institute, wrote: "MichiganVotes.org . . . makes a major contribution to
political access and accountability." Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-30th, dubbed by
columnist Bill Ballenger as "the most conservative state senator," said
"MichiganVotes.org does a good job of presenting our record to citizens in an
easy-to-use format." Ballenger himself noted that "MichiganVotes.org has made
it a lot simpler to review legislators’ votes."
One thing is
certain: From now on, when any Michigan citizen sees a media report that only
cites what a bill’s sponsors hope it will do, he or she no longer has to wonder
what the bill really does. He or she can check it out on
Note: Jack McHugh is the manager
MichiganVotes.org, and legislative policy analyst for the Mackinac Center
for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in