The Texas Tribune, a fantastic online news source, has created a first-of-its-kind online data-driven application that allows you to search and track legislation in the current legislative session. As explained in detail (and video) below, the application allows you to search by category, bill number, author, caption, and description. While the Texas Legislature's website allows for some of this functionality, the Texas Tribune's app is far more robust, and seems to be much easier to use.
by Matt Stiles and Travis Swicegood
January 19, 2011
With the 82nd Legislative Session in only its second week, Texas lawmakers have already filed more than 900 bills — potential laws addressing hundreds of subjects ranging from abortion and immigration to health care and wrongful imprisonment.
Our latest data-driven application, released today, aims to help Texans make sense of the legislative process, tracking proposed pieces of legislation as they move through the Texas House and Senate during the next five months.
Users can search the bills by their assigned numbers, subject categories and captions, the short descriptions of each bill's intended purpose. Users can also search the bill by each author’s name. The application is also designed to put the data in context, giving users the ability to understand potential legislation in ways that traditionally would be used by reporters to write text stories.
The application, which will be updated early each morning, shows which lawmakers have filed the most bills and which subjects are the most popular. It also splits those figures out by political party and chamber.
As might be expected, education is the most popular subject of legislation in both chambers, with more than 170 bills filed since November, followed by criminal procedures (63) and taxation (55). Users of our application will be able to view a list of all categories with their corresponding totals of bills filed.
In addition to the text lists and totals, we’ve also added a visualization tool — interactive graphics known as treemaps — to help users “see” the data and therefore have a better understanding of the Legislature’s priorities and their own lawmakers’ role in that process.
The treemaps, which also will update as more legislation is filed, puts the subjects and lawmaker names into colored boxes, based respectively on the number of bills filed. Users can select the legends to toggle between views, like changing the graphic to only represent Republicans’ totals or to see how the House and Senate compare.
All lawmakers have pages listing his or her legislation. Each category has a page listing each bill assigned to it. And each bill has a page, listing the primary author or authors, bill caption and any activity associated with the bill. (For now, most are listed as “filed” but that will change as committee activity and floor debate heat up this spring.)
The application is a reflection of our “data-is-news” philosophy, and as we update the app, it will play a key role in our coverage of the legislative session. We are planning other ambitious new offerings designed to make the Legislature more accessible — and understandable — to Texans.