One of the keys to success in getting legislation passed is making sure information about that legislation is accessible and relevant to those who are affected by it. Unfortunately, legislative bills are rarely written in formats that can be quickly read or understood.
The City of Largo has tackled the challenge of interpreting and providing access to bills that affect local government operations and residents. It created a website-based legislative tracking tool that is open to employees, elected leaders and the general public. (To access the legislative tracking tool, visit bit.ly/3DuOvZa.)
“The City places a high value on the involvement of all city leaders and staff as well as our community in our advocacy efforts,” said Christopher Hawks, MPA, Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator for the City. “The City has always tracked legislation internally, with elected officials and members of each department reviewing bills that might affect operations.”
Staying up to date on the progress of proposed legislation guides staff and city leaders in their conversations with legislators, but the task can be cumbersome. In response to feedback from staff and elected officials, Hawks and the City’s website team created a page that lists all bills introduced in the Florida House and Senate that affect local municipalities. The page includes the bill number, sponsor, summary and a link to the full bill.
“The City wants to make this a one-stop shop for anyone interested in advocacy, specific bills or issues,” said Hawks. The intergovernmental relations team reviews pending bills using internal resources, determines which bills might impact the Largo community and uploads them to the site. “In addition to providing summaries of the bill, there is also a keyword search feature so team members or residents can quickly find bills relating to whatever topic they are looking for.”
Expanding access to this information to include community residents is a significant enhancement to involving citizens in grassroots advocacy efforts, said Hawks. “By putting the information on the website, it is much easier and more convenient for city residents to follow bills and take action when needed.” The tracking tool is promoted in the City’s external newsletter as well as the employee newsletter and social media.
“The City of Largo has taken a big step toward ensuring their residents and businesses are more engaged in the statewide issues that can impact their communities,” said Casey Cook, Director of Legislative Affairs, Florida League of Cities. “This tool will help to bring the community and Largo’s city leaders closer by ensuring more of their residents are aware of the issues, what the impacts could be and how they can work together to strengthen their city.”
The tracking tool webpage went live in October 2021, and there will be daily updates throughout the 2022 Legislative Session. “Updates will include notes on the progress of bills through committees and the status or outcome of the bill at the end of the session,” said Hawks. The updates will include the latest version of the bill as it moves through committees.
Because information and changes will be “fast and furious” during the session, Hawks expects to be busy. The legislative tracking tool’s up-to-date information on legislation will be useful to city officials, staff and residents as they advocate for issues and laws that enhance life in the City of Largo, said Hawks. “A central source of information about legislation that is updated through the session is critical,” he said.
There are many cities that provide information on legislative bills to help keep their residents engaged, said Cook. “Any effort by a city to educate and engage their residents and businesses is something the League supports,” he said. “The League encourages other cities, towns and villages to follow the City of Largo and get their communities even more involved in the issues important to them.”
Cities can bolster their efforts with tools developed by the League to support grassroots advocacy efforts. Florida residents, businesses and city staff can see weekly updates on individual bills and stay updated during the session by going to bit.ly/3CCEDeY. Individuals can also text Local Voices to 50457 to receive text alerts on important issues.
Hawks said, “This project was possible because the Mayor and City Commissioners recognize the importance of advocacy and have been actively involved. The legislative tracking tool is an important resource that supplements our already robust advocacy efforts that include regular contact with our legislative delegation and visits by city representatives to Tallahassee prior to and during the legislative session.”
Cook said, “This tracking tool created by the City of Largo will help to educate more Floridians to the actions of the legislature and how decisions made hundreds of miles away can impact every city throughout the state. The League looks forward to continuing to advocate with the City of Largo and Florida’s other 410 cities on those issues impacting municipalities and supporting legislation that strengthens local decision-making.”
By Sheryl S. Jackson
Sheryl S. Jackson is a Writer/Editor with the Florida League of Cities.