By ALLISON MIRIANI
Capital News Service
LANSING — To most people, bills are things that keep piling up and may cause a plethora of problems if left unpaid. For lawmakers at the state Capitol, however, bills –proposed legislation — are life.
These measures that lawmakers put much time and effort into trying to pass are sometimes not heard about by the average citizen until after they have gone into effect or the media do a story on them.
But, citizens can obtain bills and many other sources of information if they know where to look. One place is on the computer.
With improved Web sites devoted to state government, anyone with access to a computer can access many types of information on the Internet.
“This is really changing how easy it is for you to get information about the legislative process,” said Kelly Bartlett, legislative liaison for the state Department of Management and Budget.
Government information, including information about legislators, bills and events, can be accessed at www.michigan.gov and www.michiganlegislature.org. By clicking on links, people can learn to navigate quickly through the pages to find the information they seek.
“These Web sites are very helpful,” said Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond. “We are in a computerized generation and people have information at their fingertips.”
That information was not always so easy to access.
Bartlett remembers that when Don Gilmer, now the state budget director, started in the Legislature and wanted to know what was in a bill, he had to ask the chairman. Bartlett said that if the chairmen liked who was asking about the bill, “he would take a copy of the bill out of his pocket” and show it to them.
“The way the legislative process interacts with people and vice versa is really changing,” Bartlett said.
However, not everyone has access to computers. For them, the Web sites and e-mail are not very exciting.
“The bills and bios (that are on the Web sites) are helpful,” said Rep. Derrick Hale, D-Detroit. But he added that those who don’t have computers at home could be “left out of the loop.”
For those who do have access to computers, e-mail may be a good way to contact legislators because both sender and recipient can access the e-mail at their convenience. More than 50 percent of those who contact Rep. Pan Godchaux, R-Birmingham, do so through e-mail. However, those who don’t want to use e-mail or don’t have access can call the office, she said.
Sanborn also likes people to call his office and has a toll-free number for their convenience.
“We are pretty good about returning phone calls, we pride ourselves on that,” Sanborn said. “I tell my staff that phone calls should be returned that same day.”
Although every office handles information requests and attempts to get in touch with legislators differently, usually people can call, e-mail, write letters or visit the office.
Some legislators also have their own newsletters that get sent out in their local districts or to people who call to request them. Matt Muxlow of Rep. Jud Gilbert’s office said that Gilbert sends out a newsletter four or five times a year and may soon have his own Web site.
Although there are many methods of getting in touch with legislators, Sanborn said, he likes the “good old fashioned telephone.”
Hale agreed that his preferred method for people who wish to contact him is by calling or actually stopping into the office.
“I always like people,” Hale said. “I like the one-on-one contact.”
To get the names and numbers of legislators in your area, simply look in the phone book in the government section. A list of representatives and senators, as well as information of the legislative process, can also be found in “A Citizen’s Guide to State Government,” which is available from any representatives and at the House Clerk’s office.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ALLISON MIRIANI