Hey, newsrooms! Finding out what’s going on in your state capital just got easier

It’s not easy keeping track of the various bills that get introduced and traverse their particular legislative journey in statehouses across the country. And, to some extent, it took a fair amount of insider knowledge to find a place to get the information, know when to look and know what to look for. But now, some new features from a free not-for-profit group called Open States is changing the game.

The quickstart version: the new features will allow you to track bills, either by keywords like “assault weapons” or by a specific number, and you’ll also be able to get alerted when something changes in one of your searches. Both of these new features will save time, help generate story ideas and keep you updated without any extra clicking or searching.

“RJI is excited to be an Open States partner,” said Randy Picht, executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. “We need more newsrooms to play a role in covering state government and better, faster online tools can be an important part of making that happen.”

Get more information about the new features here.

Open States strives to improve civic engagement at the state level by providing data and tools regarding state legislatures. The not-for-profit organization aims to serve members of the public, activist groups, journalists, and researchers with better data on what is happening in their state capital, and to provide tools to reduce barriers to participation and increase engagement.

Openstates.org aggregates legislative information from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This information is then standardized, cleaned, and published to the public via its website, a powerful API, and bulk downloads. OpenStates.org enables individuals to find out who represents them, look up information on an important bill that’s been in the news, discover how their representatives are voting, or just stay current with what is happening in their capital. Additionally, the API and bulk downloads see millions of hits every month from advocacy organizations, journalists, researchers, and many others.

“We’re excited to announce that our most-requested feature, bill tracking and alerts, has come to the new OpenStates.org!” said James Turk, founder and principal architect of Open States.

Here’s what’s new:

Login and profile pages

Our new sign up page is live, and lets you sign up for an account with common social media accounts or an email and password.

Once you verify your email address you’ll be looking at the new profile page.

OpenStates.org login and profile pages

This page lets you manage details about your account, such as what type of emails you get and if you prefer to get them weekly or daily.

Of course, it isn’t that interesting if you haven’t subscribed to anything! Right now there are two types of subscriptions available: saved searches and bill updates.

Subscribing to searches

Subscribing to a search notifies you any time the search results for a given query change. You can subscribe to things by going to the bill search page for your state (e.g. https://openstates.org/nc/bills/) and typing in a query.

Here you’ll see us searching for all New Hampshire bills mentioning “news media”. At the bottom of the search filters, you’ll see a new ‘Add Subscription’ button (highlighted here in yellow):

OpenStates.org subscribing to searches

If you click this, you’ll be subscribed to updates for this query. You will receive an email any time those search results change (daily or weekly, according to your search preference).

Subscribing to bill updates

Often once you find the bills you’re looking for, you’ll want to be notified any time the legislature moves on them.

OpenStates.org subscribing to bill updates

When logged in, you’ll see a ‘Track this Bill’ button on every bill page (e.g. https://openstates.org/nc/bills/2019/SB315/). Clicking this button will add it to your tracked legislation. You’ll receive an update any time these bills are updated.

Please note, this can be somewhat noisy as some states have a lot of actions on bills. Depending on your needs it may make sense to opt for weekly digests instead of getting daily updates.

Open beta

We’re releasing this today in beta; please bear with us as we make necessary changes to the service and work out potential issues. If you’re having trouble please either post an issue or get in touch.

Special thanks

We’re able to do this work thanks to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute generously agreeing to sponsor the development of these features. RJI opened its doors in 2008 and has been supporting projects and initiatives that seek to ensure journalism continues to be an important and vibrant part of Democracy. “This project will make this government transparency and accountability tool that’s helpful to journalists and citizens even stronger and easier to use,” said Picht. “We’re big fans of the Open States team.”

Coming soon

Of course, we’re not done yet. We’re looking to enable multi-state search subscriptions as soon as we’re sure the system can handle it, and we’ll also be adding a way to follow specific legislators so you can see what your representatives are up to.

That work, and a lot more, is in progress — stay tuned by following us on Twitter and signing up for our mailing list.


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