Finding Stuff 101: An Arizona politics wonk shows you where to find important government things
Beth Lewallen, our favorite Arizona politics nerd, walks you through the Internet places she peruses to find nuggets of data, reports, legislation and finances.
As an insider political publication for political outsiders, we consider it part of our mission to help political newcomers navigate the mess that is Arizona politics.
So we invited Beth Lewallen, the owner of Italicized Consulting, a consulting firm that focuses on legislative research and public policy communication, to be your tour guide through the legislative process.
Lewallen has extensive experience in state and local government, including some time on legislative staff, and she is among the most delightfully geeky insiders we know. She even got a couple of college degrees related to government, which helped her learn to love finding details about public policy.
You can usually find her tweeting nerdy details about government at @ItalicizedAZ.
Since you’re reading the Arizona Agenda, you know that state government is important. You might even want to know more about it.
While some of us have made it a full-time job to think about Arizona’s government, the good news is that you don’t have to. With a few key resources, you can find the information you need to be informed and involved. Please join me for this Finding Stuff 101 tour of state government.
Our first stop is the Arizona Legislature, where many state policies take shape. The legislature’s website provides almost everything you need to follow policymaking at the Capitol.
If you need a refresher on how a bill becomes law, this cartoon is for you. It’s been around awhile, but the many steps in the legislative process are still important.
With the links under the “Bills” tab, you can search for legislation by the bill number. You can also use the search function on the left side of the Bill Overview page to look for legislation by keyword, bill sponsor, where it is in the legislative process, or what policy committee considered it.
Once you’ve found the bill number, use the “Documents” tab to read the bill and amendments to it. Look at the fact sheets about the legislation as well — these are the bill summaries prepared by the legislative research staff, and they explain complicated policies in more understandable terms.
Now that you have a few proposals that interest you, the Request to Speak page under the “Legislative Information” tab allows you to register your position on a bill. (When you’re using the “Agenda Search” option, be sure to choose “yes” for past agendas if you want to comment on something that already went through a committee.) The Request to Speak system is all online, but you must create your account in person at the Capitol or the Tucson Legislative Office to start using it. (The legislature has a detailed manual, but you might start with the Arizona Mirror’s video about how to use the program.)
If you feel really strongly about a bill or a topic, you can email your legislators about it. It’s easy to find the legislators who represent your part of the state, as well as contact information for the members of the House and Senate. (Pro tip: Be polite and explain your position — most lawmakers want to know what matters to you and why, even if they don’t agree with you.)
And now, let’s continue our tour by returning to the “Legislative Information” tab on the legislature’s website. This section also allows you to create a tracking list to follow the proposals that matter to you so you can follow them through the process. Once you’re signed into the Request to Speak page, choose “Bill Status Inquiry” from the “Applications” tab at the top of the page, then click “Personal Progress” on the left side of the page. The legislative manual has more information about setting up your bill tracking lists. (Be sure to click the “enable alerts” button or your tracking list if you want to receive notifications when the legislature acts on the bills you’re watching.)
If you want to watch what’s happening at the Capitol from the comfort of your home or office, you’ll be a fan of Arizona Capitol Television. The legislative broadcast team provides videos of every committee hearing and floor session. You can watch the hearings live or find videos of past events in the archive.
The staff at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee provide the numbers and analysis that help legislators accomplish the one responsibility they’re assigned in the Arizona Constitution: create a state budget. To dive into the budget process, state funding, and past financial priorities, head over to the “JLBC” tab. You’ll probably find me there, since I spend a lot of time studying the spreadsheets and helpful details. My favorite thing on this site is the JLBC Monthly Fiscal Highlights — they provide the latest analysis of the state’s bank accounts and spending.
Of course, the governor is an important part of the budgeting process, and each governor proposes a budget at the start of the legislative session in January. If you want details on the governor’s budget priorities and state agency funding requests, visit the Office of Strategic Planning & Budget website.
Before we leave the legislative site, check out what’s happening under the “Calendar & News” tab. This lists the events and hearings scheduled at the Capitol (under “ALIS Today/Capitol Events”) and the latest news from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. Now that you know your way around the legislative process, you’ll be able to better appreciate all the details available here!
The second stop on our tour isn’t quite as popular, and I’ll admit it’s more bureaucratic — but it matters. While state statute sets the law, the Arizona Administrative Code outlines how state entities implement those laws. There’s more detail in the Administrative Code than in statute, because state agencies need specific guidance about how to put the legislature’s direction into daily practice. So if you care about things the state does, like regulation of professions or health care oversight, you might be interested in how those responsibilities are accomplished.
Just as you can get involved in the legislative process, you can share your views on the rules that go into the Administrative Code. One way is to read the Administrative Register. The Secretary of State’s office publishes it every Friday, and it’s full of details about proposed changes to rules — like relevant contact information and a scheduled hearing for Arizonans to share their thoughts with the relevant state agency. (This PDF can be a little overwhelming. Make the font size larger and start by focusing on the summary at the beginning of each rule change outlined on the first page of the Register.)
If you know the topics that interest you, check the website for state agencies that work in those areas. Many agencies post their rule change proposals on their websites, so you can also share your insights there.
The Governor’s Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) is the final stop for most of the rulemaking process. The GRRC website provides agendas for meetings, and each agenda has details on how to share your opinion on proposed rules before they’re adopted; the “Final Files” listed for each month’s study session provides a truly mind-boggling amount of information on each proposal. Use the “search” function inside the PDF to find the items that matter to you.
The last part of our Finding Stuff 101 tour focuses on elections, which determine who shapes public policy decisions. You’ll hear a lot about political candidates and ballot issues over the next year, so dive a little deeper to learn about the candidates who want to represent you through the Arizona Clean Elections Commission website. You can also register to vote there, find upcoming election dates, and get more details on what will be on your ballot.
It’s important to spend some time on the “Elections” tab on the Secretary of State’s website, too. Here you’ll find information on citizen initiative applications that describe what people are trying to get on the ballot. You’ll also find searchable records of political candidates’ campaign contributions, where you can learn about who is donating to a particular candidate. You might also enjoy searching the lobbyist registration system, which can be a great way to find organizations that work on issues that interest you.
This is the end of today’s tour, and I hope you’ve found some resources to help you learn more about policymaking. If you want to get involved but still aren’t quite sure what parts of government interest you, head over to the searchable list of meetings for state agency committees, task forces, and boards. You just might get inspired!
Whether you want a career in public policy or just want to learn enough to follow what you read in the headlines, the websites listed here will help you. I have to warn you, though: Once you start learning about policymaking, it can be hard to stop. Before you know it, you could be starting your own tour to help others join you in Finding Stuff.
Huge thanks to Beth for this incredible rundown of how to find stuff. If you like these kinds of resources, follow Beth on Twitter, and subscribe to the Arizona Agenda so we can bring you more insight that helps you learn how Arizona government works.
Let us know what you’d want to see included in a Finding Stuff 201 version. What other parts of Arizona government do you need help navigating? You can leave a comment on this post or shoot us an email.