When Steve Hobbs wants information about a General Assembly bill, he doesn't turn to his legislator, he turns to the Internet.
Dr. Hobbs, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Augusta State University, is closely watching House Bill 62, a proposal that would allow master's level psychologists to be licensed as clinical psychologists.
Dr. Hobbs is keeping up with the bill as it moves through the assembly through a state-run web site that lists the status of all the bills introduced in the General Assembly.
"It really helps to keep citizens informed," said Dr. Hobbs.
The legislative tracking system is part of a growing trend to make electronic government information available to the public, said Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia.
In addition to the bill-tracking service, officials at GeorgiaNet Authority - an authority created by the Legislature to disseminate electronic information - plan to make lobbyist expenditures and other searchable databases available in the coming months.
Most users are likely to be people who already had an interest in the Legislature, Dr. Bullock said.
"It makes it a lot easier for lobbyists and activists," Dr. Bullock said. "The average citizen probably isn't going to do it."
In fact, the Internet could be making information too accessible, he said. The Internet has become a place where anyone can post information, and that makes it difficult for users to know how good that information is.
"There's no way to tell what's pretty good, what's average, and what's off the wall," he said.
"One risk may be that the information is so available you could drown in it," he said. "There has to be something to guide a person to get something out of it, otherwise it's just overwhelming."
There are two state-run sites that have legislative tracking information.
The General Assembly web site has bills arranged sequentially. There is also background information on each of the legislators and all of the committees.
The GeorgiaNet Authority site allows users to search for bills by keywords, by bill number and other methods.
House Bill 62 has been in the Health and Ecology Committee since the first week of the 1997 session. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, said the bill is getting heated opposition from psychologists with doctorates, who plan to offer a counterproposal.
Only one of the five bills saw any action this week. Senate Bill 107, a proposal by Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill, if approved by the House, would require that physicians in other states be licensed in the state of Georgia if they are treating patients in Georgia through telemedicine.
A proposal to keep accused murderers behind bars until they can be tried has not yet been introduced. The bill's authors are reworking the bill in the face of criticism that it is unconstitutional.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits excessive bail or fines.
"The wait is a little hard," said Barbara Thurmond of Blacks Against Black Crime - a local anti-violence group that has been pushing for the bill.
"I really do understand though," she said. "When you're talking about something that affects people's constitutional rights it gets a little sticky."
Also stuck in the Health and Ecology Committee is a proposal by Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, that would exempt home health agencies from the certificate of need requirement.
It is one of five bills related to the controversial certificate of need requirements that have been introduced this session, including a bill by Sen. Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, that would exempt institutions that rely on spiritual means for treatment.
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