Monday, March 18, 2013

 

How to track bills in the Legislature by email, SMS or even telephone calls


by Larry Geller

For several years I ran a little server that notified subscribers when a bill they wanted to track would be heard (or passed, or any change, actually). Although it had many users, when the state improved their website and provided RSS feeds for bill status pages, I discontinued it. While there were some donations, there were not enough to cover expenses and programming time.

Well, the RSS feeds have not been very successful. Not because they don’t work—but because, I discovered, few people know how to use an RSS feed. Basically, you find an RSS reader or newsreader that you like and plug in the feed. When there is a change, you can see it in the newsreader.

That is, you see it if you look at the newsreader each day, or as frequently as you want to check.  I found only one free newsreader (there may be more) that will send you an email, but it still requires that your home computer be running constantly. That reader is called Awasu (Japanese for “combine,” or perhaps in this case, “aggregate.”) Check out the free version. You can use it to track bills in the Hawaii legislature.

For the moment, though, here is a way to track bills and be notified by email, text message, or even via a phone call! I won’t be using the phone call option, but I had to try it. It was so cool to hear that computer voice tell me a certain bill had passed out of committee!

This takes just a little setup. I’ve set up several text (SMS) notifications and now I have it aced. It takes me under a minute to set up a new one.

Here are the steps. First, though, you need to sign up at IFTTT.com. IFTTT means “If this then that.” Along the way it will verify your phone number for the text or phone message, or your email if you want email notification. Although there are a few steps involved, what you usually need to do on that website is click something blue, so it’s easy to remember.


Ok, fasten your seat belts. This is easier than it seems. It takes much, much longer to explain than to do it.

Step 1 – search the Capitol website and find the bill you want to track. I’ll use this one. Note the little orange thingy at the right—that’s the RSS feed link.

step 1 - find RSS feed

The Capitol website doesn’t allow right-clicking on that icon, so left-click it.

 

Step 2 – grabbing the feed

step 2 - copy feed address

Now, up in the address bar on your browser, copy the URL.

 

Step 3 – go to IFTTT and click on “Create” at the top

step 3 - click on Create

Step 4 – Click on the blue “this

step 4 - click on this

 

Step 5 – Click on the “feed icon”

step 5 - select the RSS icon

 

Step 6 – Click on the blue “New feed item

step 6 - select New feed item

 

Step 7 – Paste the feed into the box and click on the blue “Create Trigger” box

step 7 - paste RSS feed and push Create

 

Step 8 – Click on the blue “that

step 8 - push that

 

Step 9 – Click on SMS for a text message or Phone Call for a phone call, or find the Email icon if you just want an email

step 9 - select sms phone or email

 

Step 10 – Click on the blue “Send me an SMS”. Why they need this, I don’t know, but click on it. We’re almost done.

step 10 - select Send me an SMS

 

Step 11 – Delete the EntryURL field if sending an SMS or phone call, but you can leave it for an email, and then click the blue “Create Action

step 11 - Create action

 

Step 12 – Name your action with the bill number and something that will remind you which one it is, and click the blue “Create Recipe”. Yup, we’re done!

step 12 - name and create recipe

 

As you see, the steps involve clicking what’s blue. Easy to remember.

If you like, you could have put something about the bill in step 11 also. It would then appear in the message.

Once you have set one up, the next and the next are a breeze, trust me.

Yes, there should be a better way. I wish the Capitol website would just send me an email. But they don’t do that.  For now, if you want an email, text message or even a phone call, this can do it for you, and strangely enough, it’s free. How do they make their profit? I don’t know. Well, the old Catskills joke is that they make it up in volume.

 

If anyone knows a better way to do this, please let me know!

 

Now, unrelated to the above, but for Android users, an app called Sanity can speak when you get a text message. So my phone spake while I was typing this article and the text said that HB120, a bill I’m tracking, has passed HMS/HTH.



Comments:

Nor working for me. Getting this message over and over after going thru all steps:
Feed URL
Not a valid feed url, missing feed title

 


It sounds like you are not picking up the feed URL for some reason. They look like this:

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2013/rss/HB1133.xml


An alternative method is to just copy the above but change the bill number towards the end of it.
 


Thanks Larry it finally worked when I pasted your url. Donʻt know why, I had the same content and title.
Seems like a lot to go through when you have a list of watched bills. But like you said thatʻs it for now. Canʻt complain in this faster than before tech age. Maybe in the future it could be automatically incorporated in Leg. page.
aloha
 

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