Witness slips now Legislated: make Illinois government work for us

The brilliant ones at @ChiHackNight and the legislated team have released the Beta version of Legislated.
Find out what your legislators in Springfield are doing and take ACTION.
Give Legislated a spin by clicking HERE.
Learn more about the Legislated project HERE.
Follow the Witness Slip Project on Twitter.
Keep reading to learn more from earlier information released.

Chicago Women Take Action,  members of INDIVISIBLE Illinois 9th District and ChihackNight have been working together to create a digital tool to make our voices heard in Springfield. The envisioned tool will bring unprecedented transparency and participation to lawmaking in Illinois. Please help us by answering our survey .

Click here
to take our Illinois Witness Slip Survey.


Also please also read this excellent backgrounder on how WitnessSlips can move the needle on the progressive agenda in Illinois.


We met with the chief of staff for one of our Illinois state representatives (a Democrat) this week. I got a lot of good information from him which I will share here.

1)Witness slips filled out by constituents are read out in the committee hearings that occur at the beginning of the legislative process.
We told him about our group and he said that we are having an impact in the committee hearings! Witness slips filled out by constituents are read out in the committee hearings that occur at the beginning of the legislative process. They are getting more witness slips than ever before, which is probably largely due to us! The witness slips definitely influence the committee vote. So we are having an influence and we should definitely keep on doing what we’re doing!

2)  Focus on supporting the bills we like with witness slips. Follow orgs to know bills to support.
I asked how we can effectively focus on which bills most need witness slips from us. He told me two major things. First, since both houses of the Illinois legislature are majority Democratic and most committees are made up of mostly Democrats, bills introduced by Republicans are less likely to get to a floor vote than bills introduced by Democrats. Therefore, it is more important and effective for us to focus on supporting the bills we like with witness slips, rather than opposing the bills we don’t like.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t oppose bills that we don’t like, but if we are looking for a way to prioritize our time, supporting bills we like will have more impact.

Second, he listed several organizations whose newsletters and websites often talk about bills that they support. These include ACLU Illinois, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Personal PAC, and Equality Illinois. If we follow these and similar organizations, we can get guidance about what some of the important bills before the Legislature are.

3)  Once bill is eligible for floor votes, email, phone and meet to support.
Witness slips are very important at the committee step of the process. Once a bill passes through committee and is eligible for floor votes, we need to keep supporting it in other ways. We should send emails to our state legislators, telephone them, and ask for meetings with them as individuals or in small groups to urge them to support specific bills. His main point here was that it’s all a numbers game and that we should try to make as many “points of contact” with the legislators as we can. That is, contact them as many times as possible to urge them to vote for or against bills we consider important. We have to keep up this pressure *throughout the legislative process.* Filling out witness slips is just our first step.

4)Keep calling and emailing to be  noticed by  staff members
He said that repeatedly contacting legislators’ offices is very effective, because their staffs are very small, so if you keep calling and emailing, it’s going to be noticed by the staff members and they are going to talk to the legislator and let them know that there’s a lot of public outcry about specific bills. This will impact how they vote. They also log every call, email, and in-person visit into an internal database system and keep track of every single one. He said they can look up how many contacts they got from constituents on bills years in the past. They take this information very seriously.

5) Watch for shell bills and revisit them.
He also said that some bills will be “shell bills.” Legislative rules require a bill to be filed before the filing deadline, but the rules also allow legislators to just file a shell bill (meaning that it doesn’t really have any substance) and then they can amend later to fill in the substance. You can often tell whether something is a shell bill if you look at the text of the bill and you notice that it makes almost no changes to the text of the Illinois code. If it just changes a word or two, it’s probably a shell bill. This means that we would want to go back and look at it later to see what substance was added later in an amendment. At that point, we can decide whether to support or oppose it.

6) Ask legislators to clarify bills they introduce.
I told him that the text of some bills is hard to understand and ask him if there any resources online to help us understand bills that have complicated language. He said that beyond reading the text of the bill on the ILGA website, there isn’t really any resource that further explains bills, and that if we have trouble understanding a bill we should contact the office of the legislator who introduced that bill. The ILGA website tells us who introduced the bill. He also said that we should feel very free to contact legislators’ office with questions like this, and really, about anything. That’s what they’re there for. They want to hear from constituents, because that’s where they get all their information about what they should be doing to represent us.

8) Ratify  the ERA – Equal Rights Amendment — in Illinois!
Nevada ratified it THIS WEEK, the first state to ratify it in 40 years. It only needs a couple more states to ratify it in order to become effective. Illinois has come extremely close to passing it in recent years! State Senator Heather Steans introduced it in the legislature this year. We need to support this. And it needs sponsors in the IL House. Please contact your state representative and ask them to sponsor or co-sponsor it in the IL House.

7) Additional useful info

  • Here’s the Illinois Government Dashboard
  • Here’s an illinois Government Witness Slip User Guide
  • An explanation of  Illinois Witness Slips
  • Committee hearings are videotaped, and you can watch the videos on the ILGA website.
  • Most committees meet at the same time each week, so we can use this information to plan our outreach accordingly.
  • Committee hearings are public, so anyone can go and be an in-person witness. We may even be able to speak in front of the committee. If we have an expert regarding a certain bill, we can bring that person to Springfield and they can give actual testimony to the committee. We can contact sponsors of the bill to tell them we want to have an expert testify.
  • Springfield is very open and it’s very easy to talk to legislators there. You can walk around and talk to a bunch of them all at one time. So this would be another way to lobby for or against bills in person.