Center launches aid for citizens who want to keep tabs on the legislature

What’s an LD?191

What’s an LR?

Is a “statute” a law, or a bill, or something on display in an art museum?

If citizens want to know what’s going on in Maine’s statehouse, it can be confusing to try to sort through all the acronyms and “government speak.”

Here at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, we want to help citizens follow – and take part in  – the legislative process by using a new service on our “Be Your Own Watchdog” website.

The new “legislation” section of  “Be Your Own Watchdog” gives citizens the tools they need to understand what a bill is and how it makes its progress through the legislature.  The site provides a detailed, non-technical guide, drawn from many state sources, to how citizens can make their own voices heard and even where to park when coming to the statehouse.

Be Your Own Watchdog,” was created by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in 2012. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service that has produced dozens of investigative stories in the past three years.

“We get more requests, questions and suggestions for stories than our small staff can accommodate, which was the impetus for Be Your Own Watchdog,” said Center Publisher John Christie. “With the expansion of this part of the website, citizens can do their own research about issues that matter to them.”

Be Your Own Watchdog allows the public to do the same kind of research that the Center’s reporters do about public officials and government by gathering in one place information from a variety of sources on elections, campaign finance, lobbying, legislation, government ethics and other topics.

The new legislative section of “Be Your Own Watchdog” provides an easy way to find answers to such questions as,  “How do I find out the number of a bill?” “Can I get copies of testimony on bills?” or “If I can’t get to the Statehouse, can I still hear deliberations on legislation?”

Readers will be able to look up a bill, find out what committee will be addressing it, who’s on that committee and what time they’ll be meeting to discuss it. There are basic instructions on testifying before a committee, as well as a map to help navigate the statehouse complex and find a meeting room.  There’s an extended section on the path of legislation, from inception to passage, and links to committees and their members’ profiles.

So please take a look at our new site and let us know what you think. And use it – because, as Thomas Jefferson said, “”Wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

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