Web sites help simplify jobs for Capitol workers

ATLANTA - Understanding the bills proposed in the Georgia General Assembly may be difficult, but thanks to the growing capabilities of online sources, tracking down individual legislation and lawmakers has never been easier.


By employing user-friendly formats, Web sites have become the most efficient way to search for and find information regarding the state Legislature. Viewers can even watch live debates and committee meetings or replay archived video of previous activity.

As a result, some Capitol workers are breathing sighs of relief.

Freida Ellis and Agnes Doster, who work as bill clerks in the Senate, said the improvements of the official Senate site has helped simplify their jobs.

"Back in the '90s, our phones rang off the hook because there was no other way for people to get answers," Ms. Ellis said. "Now with the Web site, we can work with someone for 10 minutes, and then they never call again. The biggest thing is that it frees us up to do our jobs."

Riley Lowry, the director of member services for the House of Representatives, said he encountered the same barrage of calls before the House site was redesigned two years ago. He also said the online upgrade has helped his staff answer the toughest questions that callers might still have.

"Two years ago we had a run-of-the-mill Web site and were getting over 100 calls a day," Mr. Lowry said. "Now we are still getting calls, but we are getting better questions. I think people have become more informed because of the Web site."

Both the official sites for the House and Senate are designed for easy navigation. The task bar at the top of the pages categorizes legislation, lawmakers, committees and other offices. This gives the user the ability to search by bill, keyword, legislator or session. Additionally, both Web sites are able to broadcast video and link to other government sites.

However, not everyone is sold on the simplicity and ease of the sites.

Jonathan McGinty, the public relations coordinator at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, said he had a difficult time during the 2006 legislative session finding particular information on some senators and representatives.

"I remember having a hard time finding what bills certain legislators were backing," he said. "Sometimes it was really easy, but other times the information would be in all different places. It just needed to be a little more organized."

Still, it beats driving to Atlanta for research.

Ms. Ellis and Ms. Doster urged senior citizens who are not comfortable with the Internet to call them at the Secretary of the Senate and receive instructions on how to work the Web site.

"The more people that we can train, the more informed they are," Ms. Ellis said.

Still, there are ways to obtain information about the Legislature other than its official sites.

Frequently, people hear about certain legislation from special-interest groups.

Also, nongovernment Web sites provide valuable news and commentary concerning Georgia Politics, while blogs have become a forum for discussions about the state government.

Unlike other online sources, blogging has only recently become an outlet for political information. Although they create issues concerning credibility, blogs provide a level of interaction that is unrivaled on the Internet.

Mr. McGinty said blogs do give additional commentary on a more frequent basis but lack the quality of newspapers or television stations because they have significantly fewer resources.

"Blogging opens up information distribution; it opens a large number of avenues," said Mr. McGinty, who is a regular blogger. "But even though there is more commentary on blogs, that does not mean there is more reporting or additional research."


Phone numbers:

- Clerk of the House: (404) 656-5015

- Secretary of Senate: (404) 656-5040

- Office of the Governor: (404) 656-1776

Online Sources:

- General Assembly: www.legis.ga.gov

- Georgia Senate: www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/senate/index.htm

- Georgia House of Representatives: www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/house/index.htm

- Governor: www.gov.state.ga.us

- Other nongovernment sites: www.georgiadailydigest.com, www.stateline.org, www.peachpundit.com


A list of upcoming events for the Georgia Legislature:

- Monday - The legislators get sworn in at the Capitol at 10 a.m. The governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and other state officials get sworn in at Phillips Arena at 2 p.m.

- Wednesday - Gov. Sonny Perdue delivers his state of the state address and presents his spending recommendation at noon.

- Jan. 15-18 - The legislature goes on recess during the Martin Luther King holidays while joint budget meetings are held.

- Jan 22 - The legislature reconvenes.

- Late January-late February - The Capitol hosts various political and business leaders around the state and presents them with the opportunity to lobby legislators to approve items that would benefit their communities.

- Late February - The General Assembly approves the mid-year budget, which covers state spending until June 30.

- Day 33 - Seven days until the end of the session, Crossover day is the deadline for bills to be passed from either the House or the Senate.

- Day 38-40 - The General Assembly usually waits until the final days of the session to approve the final budget, which covers state spending beginning July 1.

- Day 40 - By law, the final day that the General Assembly can be in session.