Revamp of legislative alert system should be finished soon

2013-02-14T05:15:00Z Revamp of legislative alert system should be finished soonJESSICA VANEGEREN | The Capital Times | jvanegeren@madison.com madison.com

The website for the Wisconsin State Legislature has a super handy feature called the Wisconsin Legislative Notice Service. It allows users to receive email alerts when, for instance, topics and bills they are interested in are up for debate or committees are scheduled to meet.

Parents wanting to follow all legislative activity related to autism, for example, can enter the word "autism" into the search box and receive updates for the remainder of the session.

So Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, was surprised when, at the start of the current legislative session last month, she logged on to set up her email alerts for election committee updates — as she’s done at the start of legislative sessions for years — and found that the system was down.

“Frankly, there is no other way for citizens to do these things,” Kaminski says. “I put up with it for a little while, but they aren’t honoring open government.”

Kaminski says with Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-2015 budget set to come out Wednesday, the system needs to be up and running in order for people to track what’s happening.

It sounds like there is a good chance that’s going to happen.

According to Jeff Ylvisaker, director of the Legislative Technology Services Bureau, the goal is to have the portion of the website’s notification service that tracks bills up and running by the time Walker unveils the budget.

He says if it's not, it should only take a few more days thereafter. He added it is a priority to get this portion of the site back up and running as close as possible to the governor’s release of the budget.

Ylvisaker says the program’s upgrade is attached to a massive overhaul of the online bill drafting system, something that hadn’t been done since the 1990s.

“We were unable to get everything done on time. The notification system is one of the last pieces (to complete),” he says. “Essentially this is the end of a four-year upgrade.”

When the bill drafting system changed, all the databases that fed off of it for information had to be updated as well, including the notification system on the Legislature’s homepage.

In the meantime, visitors to the site can set up an RSS feed to obtain updates. For a link to that option, click here.

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