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Keeping track of the Minnesota Legislature

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators considered 8,045 bills in their last two-year session. Keeping up is a daunting task for a lawmaker, even with staff members helping, and it is even more difficult for the average person. But with a little patien...

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators considered 8,045 bills in their last two-year session.

Keeping up is a daunting task for a lawmaker, even with staff members helping, and it is even more difficult for the average person. But with a little patience -- and the Internet -- it is possible.

"If people take the time, it is all out there," said Scott Magnuson, who heads the Minnesota Senate Information Office.

Lawmakers report that in rural Minnesota, especially, constituents follow legislative activity. And many make a habit of watching live television or Internet coverage.

"That's why I don't yawn," joked Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids.

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Legislators' speeches often refer to "people watching at home" on one of the many cable or public TV stations across the state that carry all floor sessions and some committee meetings live, or the folks who watch video or listen to audio via the Internet. (Audio recordings of nearly every committee hearing and all floor sessions are available online).

"A lot of people underestimate the interest on the part of the general population," added Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead. "There seem to be more and more people that are following it."

Without the Internet, there are telephone numbers, television coverage and newspapers. But nothing beats the Internet in keeping track of which bills are advancing and which are languishing.

"People have such good access," Lanning said. "As soon as a bill is introduced, they can get a copy."

Start at www.leg.mn and click away to read a bill, find a more readable summary of many bills, track their progress and find out who voted for and against a particular measure.

One of the newer features of the legislative Web site is My Bills, accessed through the Legislature's home page. It allows a person to track bills of special interest.

The House and Senate offer a general summary of activity, both daily and weekly -- Session Daily from the House and Senate Briefly. The House publication also will mail its magazine to any Minnesotan, although a few years ago the Senate decided to save money and discontinued printing copies.

The Legislature will send electronic mail to people interested in schedules and other notices from specific committees ( www.leg.state .mn.us/leg/mailinglists.asp).

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The Legislative home page provides a link to find out who represents any area of the state. And clicking on Senate or House of Representatives takes an Internet user to pages with information about how to contact all legislators.

Despite the Internet making it easier, most people spend little time following the legislative scene.

"Your average citizen doesn't get involved in this process unless it is a pocketbook issue," Magnuson said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the public is concerned with legislative results on "bread and butter" issues such as taxes and education.

"Average Minnesotans don't follow what bill's introduced and what amendment got passed," Pawlenty said. "In general what they want to know is: Can you keep my taxes reasonable, can you improve my kid's school, can you make my health care more affordable, can we do something about this energy crisis and can you get me out of traffic?"

Internet

State government home page: www.state.mn.us

Governor's office: www.governor.state.mn.us

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List of bills sent to governor: www.governor.state.mn.us/priorities/ legislation/index.htm

Main legislative page: www.leg.mn

Frequently asked questions: ww3.house.leg.state.mn.us/leg/faqtoc.asp?subject99

E-mail lists to keep up with committee action: www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/mailinglists.asp

Session Weekly, House-produced legislative magazine: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/swmain.asp

Session Daily, House-produced summaries of daily activity: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/sdaily.asp

Senate Briefly, daily updates on Senate action: www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/briefly/

How to follow a bill: www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/trackbil.asp

Telephone

House information: (800) 657-3550 / (651) 296-2146

Senate information: (888) 234-1112 / (651) 296-0504

Television

Many cable television systems and Twin Cities Public Television's Channel 17 carry live broadcasts of legislative debate. In Duluth, WDSE-TV Channel 8 airs the weekly legislative production "Capitol Report" Sundays at noon.

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