Importance of Legislative Tracking with Karen Suhaka, Founder of BillTrack50

Posted on November 24, 2014

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ELGL is excited to announce a new partnership with BillTrack50. BillTrack50 is a federal and state legislative tracking service which is used by a number of cities including Missoula, MT and Broward County, FL. We interviewed founder Karen Suhaka to learn what we’re missing if our organization is not tracking federal and state legislation. You will find the answer below and you will have an opportunity to find out for yourself.

Karen has generously agreed to offer ELGL members half off their first year subscription. You will be able to set up multiple users and set up as many searches as you want within their home state and any federal legislation. Email [email protected] if you are interested.

Background Check on BillTrack50

BillTrack50 (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) is a legislation tracking database that follows legislative data from state and federal governments, and makes this data easily searchable and accessible. The platform is a lower-cost, easily-digestible alternative (with regards to understanding content) to LexisNexis, and unlike some similar databases, BillTrack50 tracks legislation from all 50 states. The database itself is free to use for reading and researching bills, but a paid subscription allows for active alerts on new legislation, as well as the function to share bills and analysis with other people.

Lighting Round


Best piece of advice you received from your parents. Be honest. It’s always the best approach in the long run.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party? I won’t be retiring. But if I were, Adam and the Ants.tumblr_mdnxkqbN1A1rfu1kro1_500

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….change the world.

Three most influential books in your life.

  • The Dip by Seth Godin
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Steve Jobs
  • Richard Feynman
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Terry Pratchet

Describe the inside of your car. I don’t have a car. But the inside of my Car2Go can be … nearly anything. Wow people forget some weird stuff sometimes.

What’s the meaning of life?

  • 42
  • Also to leave the world better than you found it.

Q & A with Karen

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What was the motivation behind creating BillTrack50?

To help smart people with good ideas connect with their representatives.

Give us three bullet points that best describes BillTrack50.

  • Timely legislative data
  • Simple and enjoyable to use
  • Very affordable

Provide a sample of the cities and counties that are using (3)

  • Missoula, MT
  • Broward County, FL
  • Salt Lake City Unified Police Department
  • Ohio Public Employees Retirement System

With local governments resources being stretched thin, tell us why we should focus resources on state and federal level tracking.

Three reasons – Budget, Budget and Budget.

Local governments often rely on funding from state and federal budgets. Whether that is direct general fund support or different grant opportunities. Knowing what is and is not in them is important.  But seriously, tracking budget bills and other legislation is often your first line of defense, which usually means the least expensive option.  A good tracking tool will cost you a fraction of what a lobbyist would cost. Once you know what bills you want to influence, you can develop a more strategic advocacy strategy. Or you might find that you don’t need to influence legislation, but it helpful for your agencies to prepare for (and budget for) the new laws enacted by the legislature.

Name the top three federal legislative issues that cities should be monitoring in 2015.images (1)

  • Federal – Budget, will the Federal government finally pass a budget or continue to govern through continuing resolution?
  • The highway trust fund – While Congress passed a short-term fix earlier this year, a long-term solution is needed? Will the new Congress be able to make a deal?
  • Challenges to the implementation of EPA regulations, especially those related to the recent navigable waters of the US rule, the Clean Air Act  and the Endangered Species Act

Let’s assume our city is doing very little tracking of federal and state legislation. Tell us what we’re missing.

i-m-just-a-bill-oIf you aren’t tracking legislation, you are missing out on being part of the discussion.  If you aren’t tracking legislation, you are missing out on the chance to manage your own priorities. No one knows how legislation impacts your town or city like you do. Tracking allows you to make the decisions on what bills are important, and what aren’t, throughout your organization. With that knowledge you can get involved in shaping that legislation.

For example, a couple years ago there was a bill in Maryland that had a preemption clause, meaning the state law on the subject superseded any municipal laws. One county government found out about it the day before the bill was about to go to the Senate floor. That county executive’s staff tried to block the bill, but it was too late. Had the county been tracking the bill, they would have been able to get involved early and worked with the legislature to secure the amendments they were seeking.

(Complete the sentence) In 2019, BillTrack50 will be… a household name

What question(s) should we have asked you?

Q: How many bills are passed in each state each year? A: Tens of thousands.

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