NYSenate's Open Legislation website has accepted online public comments on all bills for more than a year, a step that was unprecedented for a legislature. Some bills have received more than 100 comments. Compared to showing up to speak at a Committee public hearing on a bill, online public comment gives citizens a voice with several advantages, such as:
- no cost to travel to a public hearing,
- far less time investment required (e.g.: no need to take time off work to go to a hearing)
- ability to post and update comments at any time (rather than at a single public hearing on a single day for any given bill),
- ability for citizens to engage in an ongoing public dialogue with one another about a bill, and
- ability for legislators to hear from citizens right up to the moment a bill is voted on
In short, it levels the playing field for average citizens to get actively involved in the legislative process in New York State.
However, online public comment also introduces a new challenge: with hundreds and potentially thousands of new voices on any given bill, Senators and their staff can find it difficult to process all of this new information along with their already extremely busy schedules. Similarly, citizens wishing to engage in a dialogue about a range of bills of interest can find it difficult to keep tabs on what their fellow citizens are saying.
Therefore, for the past several months, we have been testing a new service called "BillBuzz," which allows Senators, staff, and citizens alike to sign up to receive a daily email digest new public comments posted to Open Legislation. Check it out here. You can subscribe to receive comments for legislation sponsored by any specific specific set of Senators you wish, and you can change or cancel your email subscription at any time. After you try it out, please let us know what you think.