This week a lawmaker was arrested for driving under the influence. It made me refresh my court and cop reporting skills (with the help of a fellow reporter) to remind me how to obtain police reports and who to call about court proceedings. Funny how being bogged down in politics can make you forget some of the basics of journalism 101.
But that arrest began to call other parts of the lawmaker’s service into question as well. All of us in the Capitol newsroom have noticed that Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, has been absent for a few days this session. It seems like there is one every session that skips more days than others.
With the arrest, I decided to take a look at exactly how many days Trebilcock had been gone. The answer: seven out of 36 days as of Wednesday, including an organizational day in January. So he has been gone about 20 percent of the time since session began two months ago to the day. And lawmakers only work four days a week as it is, maintaining its citizen legislator mantra.
Figuring out what days Trebilcock was gone was easy enough. I had to open each day’s House Journal, which records all of the proceedings for that day in the House, including who is present and absent. An attendance card for lawmakers. So I opened all 36 journals on the House of Representatives Web site, and the attendance is right at the top.
But, to figure out how many votes Rep. Trebilcock missed is a different story. On the House’s Web site, I can get a list of all of the votes made so far this year. 792 to be exact. But to see each lawmaker’s individual vote, I either have to know the bill number, and can go to each vote individually that way, or I would have to go through each day’s House Journal and tally them all up. That task would take hours.
Each lawmaker has their own Web site, but a list of their individual votes is not included in the provided information. So, if a member of the public wants to know how their lawmaker is voting on bills in general, there is no easy way to get that information.
Another issue is the new House daily agenda. Last year, the daily agenda was posted online the day before, giving the public easy access to bills set to be heard the next day. It wasn’t a guarantee that a bill would be heard, and they certainly didn’t follow the order at times, but it was a good gauge of what may come up that day. This year, under new Republican leadership, the agenda setting has changed.
Members of the public will now find a long list of all of the bills posted to the agenda as they are moved out of committee. Bills on the daily agenda are those that were published 24-48 hours prior to their placement on the agenda, depending on if there are amendments to the bill. A fact most constituents do not know.
For example, bills that can be heard next Monday are the ones that were posted to the calendar Monday, April 2. That gives lawmakers two days to amend the bills (Tuesday and Wednesday, since they are taking off today and Friday for Easter). So, to get the daily schedule, you sort by publish date, and just have to know that the bills published April 2 are the ones that can be heard next Monday. I would guess there are a very limited number of people who know how to work that system.
But, it does beg the question how user-friendly does the system need to be? Is a mother of four taking time out to search to see how her House lawmaker is voting, or what bills were heard that day in the Legislature? Many people depend on us, the journalists, to tell them what is happening here at the Capitol, or at least I hope they do in part. And all the information is there for those determined enough to follow the day-to-day happenings at the Capitol. It just isn’t easy to find at times. I use the site daily, and was stumped this week in finding out the number of votes Rep. Trebilcock has missed this year.
Have any of you tried to use the House Web site? What are your comments on how user-friendly it is?