An important aspect of human rights activism is tracking relevant legislation as it moves through Congress. We need to know which bills are up for a vote on the floor or at a committee hearing, and who’s sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or supporting certain bills. We also need to know dates and times as soon as possible so we can speak to our representatives right away. The hard part about all this is getting the timing right, and knowing when things happen. Most people use the press or follow certain committees, but there’s actually a better way. Below are a few possible solutions you can use to track relevant human rights legislation:
What makes Trakbill (which is based in St. Louis) a great choice for tracking legislation is that the software comes with real-time notifications. So, if a vote is scheduled for an important bill, then you can choose to learn about it via text message, email, or push notification. The software also comes with a calendar feature, so you can put hearings on the calendar and plan what needs to be done to prepare for the hearing.
The only downside is that Trakbill’s free version only allows you to track five bills at a time, which seems small. The company told us that they are increasing the limit to 10 within the next few, which is a little bit better. The paid options aren’t bad, as $99/month (or $599 for the year) will allow you to track 50 bills at a time. The pricing and the number of bills allotted are both more reasonable for most human rights organizations.
Online advocacy software Votility is a very good solution for tracking both local and federal legislation, but is a solution that’s better for bigger organizations because of the pricing. A small chapter like our St. Louis Amnesty chapter wouldn’t be able to afford the $250/month to track relevant human rights legislation, and we certainly couldn’t afford the $350/month for the capabilities to increase member retention and acquire new members.
However, they do have a free version for individuals, which would be a good choice for activists who want to work on their own or if a small organization wants to dedicate one person to tracking legislation and planning necessary actions. This might be one that I’ll sign up for and try for a little while to see how it works. It doesn’t seem like their free version has a limit to the number of bills you can track.
GovTrack is the only one of the three legislation-tracking tools that automatically starts on the federal level showing the big issues almost in real-time. This is a good tool to start with if you aren’t sure which bills you need to be watching, or if you want to watch everything on the federal level. They also have a browse bills by subject section, and although there isn’t a human rights section, their list of subjects is comprehensive enough to find something related to the specific human rights issues that you work on.
The downside to GovTrack is that it doesn’t seem to be as robust as the first two, where you can receive text message notifications or to use a built-in calendar. It also doesn’t seem like you can track a specific bill in one state, but can only either track the state or track a specific federal bill. However, it does seem there isn’t a limit to the number of bills or things you can track. You can also track by committee, by specific lawmaker, or by voting records, which is also a feature that TrakBill allows once you have an account (free or paid).
Overall, I’d recommend picking one or two tools to use to track relevant human rights legislation. It would put your organization in a position to do a little more lobbying, with more specific information on what your members could do to advocate for the issue.