Iowa Votes brings Sunshine to Legislator's Action

by Jennifer L. Crull

Election season is again upon us in Iowa and the rest of the nation. This is also the first election cycle for the Iowa House and Iowa Senate districts after the recent redistricting. Many voters in Iowa may be seeing new names on the ballot, since we have several districts with two incumbents running against each other. If you are wondering about this other candidate, then we have the Website for you. IowaVotes.org is a Website that Public Interest Institute maintains to track votes and missed votes on all legislation that is introduced at the capitol during the legislative session. I hope after you visit this Website you will agree that its easy-to-use format has a lot of useful information to educate yourself about the currently elected Iowa House and Iowa Senate members.

This year alone there were 345 bills introduced in the Iowa Senate and 475 bills introduced in the Iowa House.[1] So you have to wonder how you can keep up with all of the bills that are introduced and know how your elected Senator or Representative voted on issues such as education or agriculture. Well then allow me to introduce you to the great features on the IowaVotes.org Website and how it can help you find out about the issues you care about.

When you first go to the Iowa Votes Website, you have the ability to choose your elected officials and see all the bills they introduced, amendments they offered, and roll call votes taken. You can then refine your search even more. You can also search additional information about the Senate and House as a whole. The information on our Website covers the time period of 2009 to 2012. You can also create an account on Iowa Votes and track legislation, bills in a certain category, and watch what your elected officials are up to. This account also allows you to comment on legislation.

The last two issues of the IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER have brought you information concerning Iowa Bill Tally in June and Iowa Vote Tally in July. This month we are bringing you information about Iowa Votes. This third part of the puzzle will help tie together the information supplied in the other two articles. As you looked at Iowa Vote Tally last month you may have wondered about why on the Iowa Senate side the Democratic Senators were at the top and the Republican Senators towards the middle and the bottom, but when you looked at the Iowa House side, you should have noticed that the Republican Representatives were at the top and the Democratic Representatives were at the bottom. This had to make you pause and question what you were seeing and why. Well if we go to the Iowa Votes Website, you will understand what is happening.

When we take the time to look at an individual bill we see a different picture. If we look at Senate File 2336, which passed the House by a vote of 53 to 44, we also see on the Iowa Votes Website that there were a multitude of amendments proposed with some of those trying to increase the spending amount of the bill.[2] So the “No” vote from several Representatives is not about saving money, it was about trying to spending more money than the bill included. This is why we recommend checking in to all the data that is available to you when evaluating your elected official.

Another nice feature of the Iowa Votes Website is that under the “Advanced searches” tab you have the ability to choose “by categories.” You can then choose to search on a general subject, such as “business,” and all legislation that has been introduced concerning business will be listed. This allows you to see what kind of legislation is being proposed. It could be that more regulation or less regulation is being proposed. You can also take the time to search by your elected official and on a specific category. This allows you to see how they are voting on legislation that relates to your category of interest. This allows you to be a more informed voter.

One of my favorite features under the “Advanced searches” tab is the “By missed votes” option. This allows you to see all the missed votes of your elected officials. You can then choose your elected official or choose the “Missed votes report.” This report allows you to see all elected officials and how many votes they have missed out of the total number of roll call votes. You also have control over the time frame of the votes. So as we look at the 84th Session of the Iowa General Assembly (2011 – 2012), we see that in the Iowa Senate there were 593 roll call votes, and the Iowa Senators missed anywhere from 0 to 88 votes. You can then click on your Senator and see which votes he or she specifically missed. For the Iowa House there were 694 roll call votes, and Representatives missed anywhere from 0 to 171 roll call votes.

Under the “Advanced searches” tab you can see all the “Recent Laws.” This allows you to see a brief description of the bill, see who introduced the bill, how the Iowa House and Iowa Senate voted, and when the Governor signed the bill into law. There is also a link so that you can see the full text of the bill on the Iowa Legislative Website.

The session is over, and now we are looking to the election this fall. We need to take the time to research our elected officials in the Senate, where we have 26 seats up for election this year, and the House, where all 100 seats are up for re-election. Since we can’t predict how the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House will look after the election, you as a voter need to take the time to know all the information about the candidates and where they stand on the issues important to you. For it is very important for the taxpayers of Iowa to elect the officials that stop to think about the impact their vote has on every household and balances that with what is best for Iowa. Take the time to arm yourself with information, and then vote!

Endnotes:

[1] Iowa Legislature Website <https://www.legis.iowa.gov/Legislation/BillTracking/directoryListing.aspx?GA=84& billType=SF&min=2300&max=2399> and <https://www.legis.iowa.gov/Legislation/ BillTracking/directoryListing.aspx?GA=84&billType=SF&min=2400&max=2499> accessed on August 6, 2012.
[2] Public Interest Institute, Iowa Votes Website, <http://iowavotes.org/Legislation.aspx?ID=146526> accessed on August 9, 2012.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.

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