Your One-Stop Shop for Visualizing the Legislative Process

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The state of lawmaking at press time.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
April 29, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

In 1975, an an­im­ated, talk­ing scroll taught kids how a bill be­comes a law.

These days, teach­ing meth­ods are a little bit more ad­vanced. Take this free, new stun­ning visu­al­iz­a­tion tool from re­search­ers at the Uni­versity of Wash­ing­ton’s Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Polit­ics and Pub­lic Policy, which uses big data to show dec­ades of the law­mak­ing pro­cess in ac­tion.

The tool, called Le­gis­lat­ive Ex­plorer, al­lows users to track the le­gis­lat­ive move­ments of more than 250,000 con­gres­sion­al bills and res­ol­u­tions in­tro­duced from 1973 to the present.

“Any­one can use Le­gis­lat­ive Ex­plorer to ob­serve large scale pat­terns and trends in con­gres­sion­al law­mak­ing without ad­vanced meth­od­o­lo­gic­al train­ing,” the web­site ex­plains. “In ad­di­tion, any­one can dive deep­er in­to the data to fur­ther ex­plore a pat­tern they’ve de­tec­ted, to learn about the activ­it­ies of an in­di­vidu­al law­maker, or to fol­low the pro­gress of a spe­cif­ic bill.”

And, boy, is there a lot of data. Users can sift through it with a vari­ety of fil­ters: a spe­cif­ic Con­gress, sen­at­or, or rep­res­ent­at­ive, polit­ic­al party, top­ic, com­mit­tee, spon­sor, and more. You can also search for a bill by name and see where it died — or when it reached the pres­id­ent’s desk. Once you’ve picked a fil­ter, hit the “play” but­ton at the top left of the page and watch the ma­gic hap­pen (or not).

Each particle rep­res­ents a bill or res­ol­u­tion, and their col­ors cor­res­pond to the party and cham­ber of the le­gis­la­tion, or to its spon­sor. Red in­dic­ates Re­pub­lic­an, blue Demo­crat, and yel­low in­de­pend­ent. Mouse over a dot to see more in­form­a­tion about the bill. Hov­er over the people-shaped mark­ers on the left- and right-hand sides to see names of Con­gress mem­bers, their ideo­logy score, and their state. A handy track­er at the bot­tom of the page tal­lies the num­ber of total bills for a Con­gress at a giv­en point in time.

Long story short: You may want to watch this video tu­tori­al be­fore diving in.

At the time of this writ­ing, 6,338 bills or res­ol­u­tions have been in­tro­duced dur­ing the 113th Con­gress — 2,151 in the Sen­ate and 4,187 in the House. Eighty-four of them, or about 1 per­cent, have be­come law.

h/t Nath­an Yau

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