Friday, May 31, 2013

How to access Bills on the Congressional website Thomas

Congress has it's own website where, excepting things that go on behind closed doors, everything it does is recorded. The website known as Thomas. To get to it simply click on the picture on the right.

When you get there you'll find many many options, long term it will amaze folks all the information tucked into that website, but for today I just want folks to learn how to get to a bill, and bill amendments.

See the word "SEARCH" well just put the bill number in that box (for the Senate Farm Bill it is S 954) and just above the word search click on bill number search option, then click on the word SEARCH.

Note: For US House bills you would put HR ####, Senate bills S #### (S or HR doesn't have to be caps, either works). How I found the bill number for the Senate Farm Bill is a long story and would muddy this tutorial, but a hat tip to a reader is worth mentioning. Thanks!

Now you will see this (for the Senate Farm Bill S 954, it can look different as the site is updated while a bill moves through Congress. This is the basic format used by the Congressional website for all bills.

I don't think there is any need to explain "Latest Title (yes they sometimes change the title like they did with AWA)" "Sponsor" or "Cosponsors" they pretty much explained by those words.

Related Bills: In S 954 you will see many related bills. Different lawmakers are talking about the main topic (Farm Bill) and each has come up with some provision they would like added to the Farm Bill, so each has sponsored their own bill with their specific ideas. Thats why you see so many related bills.

Now, the related bills also includes bills from the US House. The Thomas website keeps track of everything done by either house and lawmakers, or their aides, can see what others are thinking by going to this bill, related bills section. When a bill is in committee those folks watch this carefully and often incorporate things from other bills into the bill they are working on (S 954 in this instant case).

Latest Major Action: Here is a very short description of where a bill is at the moment. Note: For S 954 -today 5-30-2013- it says "5/23/2013 Senate floor actions. Status: Considered by Senate." This means it is still being considered by the Senate and the last date they worked on it was 5-23. This WILL NOT tell you what is going on behind closed doors, unfortunately. i.e., if you scratch my back I'll do ____ etc. This line will show all sorts of things on bills as they move through congress, impossible to explain them all, you'll have to learn over time.

Text of Legislation: If you click on "Text of Legislation" you will see one of two things: A) The actual text of the bill as introduced, or B) multiple bills, from which you need to pick. When you see multiple bills it means the introduced bill has been amended a few times, and usually the last one is the most current version. Its always fun to see how bills get amended along the way, but it can confuse the heck out of you. And at times you may want to compare versions to see who did what; another tutorial.

Cosponsors Self explanatory, here there are (None)

Amendments If you were to click on "Amendments" you will find a list (Clickable) of each amendment made to the bill. Below I take you to the Vitter amendment by looking at what occurred each day, you could skip that and use this link too, but you miss what occurred daily. SO, it is up to you: The quick way, or around the barn way where to learn other things about the bill; your choice.

Now the rest of the options I have not found to be very informative, so for the sake of brevity I'll skip them. As you learn more and more about the Thomas site you will decide what is important to you. Try all of them.

Now, how do you find what happened and when it happened? See below, it really is very important.

On the right are three sections: "Major Congressional Actions," "All Congressional Actions," and "All Congressional Actions with Amendments." Usually -when a bill is new- only the first two are clickable, the third one becomes clickable when the bill gets worked on, and is the most useful of all three.

Daily List of Changes to the Bill: Since we are working on the Farm Bill lets click on the third one. There you will see a day-by-day list of everything they have done with this bill, with direct links deeper into the website so folks can see specific things worked on.

Lets study the Vitter Amendment: On 5-22 you will see:
S.AMDT.1056 Amendment SA 1056 proposed by Senator Stabenow for Senator Vitter. (consideration: CR S3716-3717; text: CR S3717)
To end food stamp eligibility for convicted violent rapists, pedophiles, and murderers.

I will be mentioning several "clicks" to get to the Vitter Amendment, but before clicking on anything you might read the following. Yes it gets tricky the deeper you get into the congressional record. Congress stores things their way, we need to follow their way!

Now click on the "S.AMDT.1056" and you will see:

TEXT OF AMENDMENT AS SUBMITTED Note the clickable link, this will take you to a short list of numbers, find S3695 and click on it. Then scroll down to SA 1056. Mr. VITTER submitted ..., you will see -verbatim- how the amendment was introduced.

STATUS: Under status it shows any changes made to the amendment, here there are none, but at times there may be many on different days too. Now to see how the amendment ended click on "text: CR S3717)" then click on "Page: S3717" there you will see "AMENDMENT NO. 1056" and its final form entered into the congressional record, with changes, if any (none for the Vitter Amendment). And, only here will the PURPOSE of the amendment be shown!
This where I found what I posted to alert folks. See my post: ACTION ALERT: Senate Farm Bill S-954: AMENDMENT NO. 1056
Now bad news, the Thomas website only allows you a certain amount of time on it before you must reenter the bill number, and start over; it does time out. Yes, that is very frustrating, but you decide how important the information is to you? Over time you'll become a speedy researcher, trust me!