It’s that time of year again. Time for sessions to get rolling. Time to start thinking about bills again. We have a few tips for getting your BillTrack50 account cleaned up and ready for the new year. There are also several new features we added over the summer that you should check out.
If you have specific questions or would like to go through this list together (and maybe dust of your BillTrack50 skills) join on of our getting ready webinars (held on Wed 11/30, Tues 12/6, or Sat 12/17), or email or contact us and we’ll set up a time to go over your account one-on-one. Or if you just need a refresher on how all of this works you can check out our getting started post or this BillTrack50 Pro Basics webinar.
Now let’s step through a few screens to make sure you’re ready for sessions.
You should make it an annual habit to go through your user list at the end of the year and see if there is anyone who needs to be added or deleted. Access the manage users screen from the account menu in the top right corner:
To remove a user simply click on them and uncheck the “active” box, and then click the save button at the bottom of the screen.
You can also see if there’s anyone you invited that never logged on; they might need a reminder email. If you have several new users we’re happy to do a training session for them; reach out and we’ll set that up.
Notice New Features on your Dashboard
We’ve been hard at working over the summer adding new features you might have missed. Here’s a quick look at the ones you might notice on the main screen.
Archived Sheets Removed from Dashboard
Last year we added the option of archiving your bill sheet so that it will stay frozen in time (more on that in the bill sheet section below). To keep your account tidy we’ve now hidden those bill sheets from the main screen, so you need to go to the bill sheet tab to access them.
Hearing Calendar and new Data Coverage List
Late last year we added the ability to see your bill hearing schedule. To add a set of bills to your schedule see the alerts tab on the appropriate bill sheet. We also recently added a link so you can review what states are included in this new data coverage; you’ll see this link at the top of the Event Schedule tab which appears once you have turned on the event schedule for at least one bill sheet.
You can now search for a legislator by last name from the search box at the top. Simply switch the search type to legislator and enter the last name. If necessary you can narrow further on the legislator search screen once the initial search is presented.
Credit Card Payments
You now have the option to pay for new subscriptions with a credit card at the time of purchase. When making a purchase, or renewing an expired subscription, choose the appropriate subscription level on the pricing screen and then choose the credit card option under payment type. You’ll notice under payments types that you can still choose to be invoiced.
Review Your Bill Sheets
At least once a year you should click through each of your bill sheets and make sure you are happy with all of the settings. Let’s walk through the things you should review. First and foremost we’ll talk about saving your bills before they drop off of your bill sheets. Then we will look at some housekeeping items.
Last things first, let’s start on the manage tab. All of the bills from sessions that are over will drop off of your bill sheets on January 1. In 2017 the only state with a continuing two year session going into the new year us NJ. So for 2017, all non-NJ bills will be removed from your bill sheet at the beginning of the year. That’s the default behavior, because we assume you want to be looking at the current session. (Note that scorecards are not tied to bill sheets, they have their own set of bills that you specifically chose, so scorecards won’t change at the start of the year.)
If you have added comments or positions on your bill sheets, or have created a widget or stakeholder page about these specific bills, you might not want the bills to be automatically removed. If that’s the case we’ve given you a few options to save this year’s bills and comments.
If you want to simply lock a sheet so it doesn’t change, you can use the archive option available on the manage tab. This will keep the system from adding or removing any bills from your bill sheet. We will still keep the latest status of the bills updated. Archiving a bill sheet is a one way trip; once you have locked it you can’t unlock it. You will be asked to confirm your choice before you proceed. (If you realize later you’ve made a terrible mistake you can reach out to us and we can help set it back, so don’t feel too much pressure. But we don’t charge for archived sheets, so before setting them back to active we need to check your subscription status.)
We recently changed where we display archived bill sheets. They no longer show up on your dashboard, since you don’t need daily updates on them. To access them go to the main screen, and then click on the bill sheet tab. Your archived sheets will be listed at the bottom of the list.
If you want to save your bills and comments for later reference, but want to keep your current sheet active so that you see new bills as they get introduced, then you are going to want to copy your sheet. Simply use the copy button at the bottom of the manage tab, and go through the steps to make a copy of your sheet. We recommend naming your new copy with the year in the title to remind you which sheet is which. After you have created your copy you’ll want to go to the manage tab and use the archive button to lock your copy so it doesn’t change. That way no bills are removed and you’ll be able to go back and refer to the bill sheet whenever you need to. Note that archived copies are available on the main screen from the bill sheet tab.
The reason we suggest making a copy and then archiving the copy is so that any widgets or stakeholder pages you have set up connected to your current bill sheet will always show the current year’s bills. On the other hand, if what you want is a stakeholder page that is fixed in time so you can show important bills from previous years, go ahead and archive the bill sheet as appropriate.
Take a fresh look at your columns. Are you happy with what you have? If you want to add or remove columns, or change their labels, order, width, etc, you can do that by updating your template settings. The template manager is available from the account management menu in the top right corner.
You can also now create new types of columns to add to your bill sheet, including links and custom drop down lists. This is one of the biggest new features we added over the summer. See this post or this little 2 minute video for more information.
A few little comments about the summary tab. We’ve added a print button at the bottom; hopefully you don’t need it. We’ve also updated our exporting capabilities so your export will better respect your filters and sorts.
The other main housekeeping item for your bill sheet is to check the query tab. Towards the bottom of the tab is a box listing bills by bill number. You can enter bills directly into this box yourself, or if you use the + or “track” button the system will add the bill number for you. We assume that since you added these specific bills you want these specific bills, and we show them to you whether they have your keywords, match your other search criteria, or are in the current session. So any bills on this list will stick – they will continue to show up on your sheet after Jan 1. If you only want to see current bills on your bill sheet, you are going to want to clear out all of these bill numbers. If you have a long list the easiest way to remove them is to click in the bill number box after the last bill number, and then hold down the backspace key.
You will also want to take a quick look at the keywords in your search boxes, if you are using any. Do they still make sense? Are any obsolete? Have you heard any new terms this year that you should add?
Finally notice we’ve upgraded the hidden bill functionality. If you click the link to review your hidden bills you’ll see we’ve added extra information to this display, and you can click to sort by any column. So now you can quickly get to a bill you just recently hid, look for a specific bill number, review all bills from a specific state, or whatever you need to do.
You should review your alert settings. Were you getting the right amount of alerts from us? Do you need more for this topic? Less? Also notice the new Event Schedule alert. This will add an additional tab to the main screen showing you when bills on this bill sheet are scheduled for hearing. If that information would be useful to you, and you haven’t turned it on yet, now is the time. Once you turn on at least one Event Schedule alert a new Event Schedule tab will appear on your main screen.
Sharing (maps, widgets, stakeholder pages)
We’ve made a number of improvements, big and small, to our various sharing tools. But first there’s a few things we should check to make sure your transition to the new year goes smoothly.
Check Bill Sheet Connections For Widgets and Stakeholder Pages
You should make sure your widgets and stakeholder pages are connected to the proper bill sheet, especially if you chose to archive some of your sheets. For a bill list or map widget simply generate the script again and make sure the bill sheet GUID in the script matches what you have on your website. This is also a good opportunity to upgrade your bill list widget to use our new position indicator to show which bills you support or oppose, or to change the colors on your map.
To double check your stakeholder page go to the manage tab to see the sharing link, and make sure it matches your iframe settings. You may also want to see the summary tab discussion above to improve the template you are using for your stakeholder page.
Some of the biggest changes we’ve made over the summer are to scorecards. Please keep the excellent feedback coming!
Before we look at the new features, though, there’s one thing you might want to consider for the new year.
Before Voting Starts
Although we’ve added a new feature to give legislators points for sponsoring legislation (more on that below), there’s may not be that much to show early in the year before voting really gets started. So if you have a scorecard posted with new bills, you might want to have the legislation tab showing when people first come to your page, instead of the summary tab.
On your page you may have something like this:
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First and foremost, we’ve added bonus points for sponsoring or co-sponsoring a bill. This new feature should come in especially handy if you are trying to score federal bills. Simply fill in the new sponsor rating option when you are rating a bill. You can give people positive or negative points, and they will be added into their total score. The sponsor rating does not, however, affect their voting percentage number.
We’ve made a few changes to the individual legislator scorecard pages. First, we’ve added a section to show the points they’ve received for sponsoring bills. We’ve also generally tidied up and made the page sharper, and improved the exports. If you haven’t been in to review your scorecards since we added legislator pages and the categories, you might want to peek at our webinar.
Finally, you may have noticed that we added zooming to the house and senate maps. So if you want to get a closer look at urban areas with smaller districts, give that a try.
You probably noticed that we added an x button to remove regulations that aren’t relevant to you. If you haven’t been completely diligent about keeping your regulations curated, you might want to step through your regulations sheets and update the cutoff date on each query tab. Coming soon we’ll be allowing you to add and remove columns to your regulations sheets just like you do with your bill sheets, so stay tuned.
Review new features
That’s it for the reviewing and housekeeping you should do to get ready for the new year. Here’s just a few more features you might want to check out as long as you are sprucing up your account.
We covered the new column management, copying and archiving sheets, and the new hidden bill functionality above, as well as other more minor features like being able to customize the color of your map and improvements to exporting. The other major new feature for bill sheets that you should know about is the ability to synch comments, which was made possible by the new column management. If you have bills on multiple sheets, you can now keep the custom data like your comments and positions in synch between them. After you are done entering or updating information on your bills for the day, go to the manage tab and push the synch comments button. That will push all of the information on your bills out to any and all bill sheets that also have those bills.
We have also been working to improve the way we display bill information, as well as improving the bill data itself. We have started adding bill digests to the bills, starting in California. We’ve added fiscal notes and other supporting information to the associated documents tab for many states. We’ve changed our policy to mark bills dead at the end of the state’s session, instead of leaving them how the state had them marked (generally in committee…)
Possibly the funnest new feature is the new vote summary graphic. When you are looking at a bill and go to the vote tab to review how votes went, the detail link now shows a graphic at the top summarizing how votes went by party:
Future Features In Development
One last new feature note. We are working on adding a search to let you add an action search to your bill sheet. That will let you add bills based on certain actions, such as which committee they have been assigned to. Please feel free to share your thoughts on how that should work. We hope to have that done by the end of the year and will update this post with that information when it’s ready.