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Debates will heat up next week at the state Capitol. Here’s how to stay engaged from afar

 Colorado lawmakers talk before Gov. Jared Polis delivered his state of the state address earlier this month.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Colorado lawmakers talk before Gov. Jared Polis delivered his state of the state address earlier this month.

Colorado lawmakers have already introduced more than 160 bills in the first two weeks of their legislative session. And starting next week, they will kick off debates on many proposals that could affect your life.

From affordable housing grants to how you vote to what you can hunt, the proposals are already stacking up.

Have something to say?

This guide will help you stay engaged with your elected officials from afar.

Find your lawmakers.

Each resident has a state senator and representative. Find yours by entering your address here.

Find a bill.

Lawmakers have passed between 300 and 600 bills during each of the last three legislative sessions. Search for legislation you are interested in by topic or keyword by clicking here.

To track a bill’s progress, scroll down and view the bill history section. There will also be links to any upcoming public hearings for the bills at the bottom of this page.

Reach out to the bill sponsors to learn more about the nuances of the legislation.

Testify

Once you’ve identified a bill you’re interested in, you can testify in-person when it is being discussed at a public hearing at the Capitol or sign up to testify remotely by clicking here. Speakers have a limited amount of time to talk about a bill, and lawmakers generally switch between panels of opponents and proponents.

Some insider tips: Those coming to the Capitol to testify should have a flexible schedule. The calendar at the Capitol is very fluid, meaning some committee hearings will start later than initially expected. And bills that attract a lot of public interest can have public hearings that last several hours.

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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If visiting the Capitol in-person, you will have to wear a mask inside the building this session because of the coronavirus pandemic. Visitors must enter through the basement level at the south end of the building (near the intersection of E 14th Ave. and N Sherman Street).

Watch and listen

Every moment of legislative action at the Capitol is broadcast live online. If you want to watch the proceedings, or view a replay, find the video feeds by clicking here.

If you only want to listen, you can find the audio feeds here.

The recordings are archived, and the broadcasts also includes committee hearings, where bills usually see the highest level of debate.

Keep score

Lawmakers print a calendar of events each day, but using it to find out exactly when a bill is being debated can often be an impossible task. It is also quite common for bills to be “laid over” or postponed until another day as lawmakers grow more strategic about the clock and when to debate a bill.

While watching the proceedings from afar, the Capitol’s live reader board is a useful tool to learn more about the bill that is being debated. It also includes a link to the audio stream, and shows times for committee hearings.

Find it here.

Find out who is lobbying for, or against, a bill

Lobbyists must register with the Secretary of State before they can be paid to try and block or pass legislation. To see which groups are actively lobbying a certain bill, use this database provided by the Secretary of State: Find lobbyists here.

You will need to find the bill number first (see guide above). And when you use the search function, be aware the site only wants the bill number in the search field, not the year and which chamber it is originating from. An example below:

To find out who is lobbying for or against a bill proposing new hunting restrictions on mountain lions, go to the lobbyist search page and enter the fields as they appear below:

Bill/Resolution Prefix: Senate Bill

Calendar Year: 2022

Bill/Resolution Number: 031

Follow the money

Do campaign contributions to lawmakers influence how they vote on certain bills?

A website created by the National Institute on Money in Politics can sometimes help you predict the vote outcome with surprising results.

 Guests watch the opening day of Colorado's legislative session in January.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Guests watch the opening day of Colorado's legislative session in January.

It’s called the power mapping tool.

It uses a database of every lawmakers’ campaign contributions to predict how likely they are to support or oppose a bill.

The more money lawmakers get from groups lobbying against a specific bill, the more likely they are to vote “no” on the bill, and vice versa.

Greg Schneider helped design the power mapping tool. He told Rocky Mountain Community Radio last year that building the database more than a decade ago was a massive undertaking.

“We still are in a situation where a lot of the states do paper reporting of some sort, but I think we hit the milestone last year where every state at least scans a PDF and puts it online somewhere,” he said.

The tool takes some training to use effectively. And it isn’t always predictive of how lawmakers will vote.

For example, it works best on bills that attract the attention of certain industries, like oil and gas operators or gun safety advocates.

We used the power mapping tool to test five bills last year, including one that aimed to make ski resorts release more data about the accidents and deaths that occur on their slopes.

We found it accurately predicted some votes, but was not as predictive on others.

Take it for a test drive, and also be sure to use the “walk me through it" function.

Still have a question about the legislative process and how to get involved? Email Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz at scott.franz@kunc.org.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.