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IBM’s Many Bills: This Law Visualization Tool Can Help Unlock Legislative Dealings

The process by which we make laws is obtuse–if not downright shady. With this online visualizer of exactly what’s going into each new law, you can start to keep your representatives honest.

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The question of what Congress is doing has always been difficult to answer. Most of us refer to back to SchoolHouse Rock’s classic “How A Bill Becomes a Law” as the definitive guide to the legislative process. When politicians bury backroom deals or draft duplicitous legislation, investigating the origins and significance of new legislation is that much harder.

IBM has saved you the trouble with its new legislative visualizer called Many Bills. No more trolling through the Congressional Record to uncover our elected officials’ tricky dealings! Now you can do it all from the safety of your own home with Many Bills’ visual explorer.

Okay, so not many of us are digging through the public record during an early morning web session. But plenty of professionals–and engaged citizens–will benefit from Many Bills’ clear analysis of representatives’ legislative activity, latest submissions, and connections with the rest of the Washington establishment. Many Bills does a solid job of cataloging each Congressional bill (in every stage) with a color-coded format that creates an interlocking map allowing you to link themes and follow the path of different bits of legislation. It’s also a useful tool for those looking to delve into how Washington works, and see how the issues that matter to you are being drafted in our Capitol. It may even help expose politicians passing out legislative favors, and reward those staying true to the promises.  

The visualization design is good, if not great. Despite elegant touches and a clear interface, Many Bills seems to confuse calligraphy and a pastel color scheme with grace and ease of use. It’s worth taking a quick tutorial of the site since not everything is immediately intuitive, but proves easy enough to grasp.

There’s a lot on offer here (the service also happens to be free). IBM has done what it does quite well: searching, analyzing, and synthesizing enormous amounts of data. Hopefully, it will keep Many Bills going. At the moment, the Twitter and blog account seem to have gone dormant.

But you can still use Many Bills for either the silly (explore S. 1928 IS to suspend duties on “golf bag bodies made of woven fabrics of nylon or polyester sewn together with pockets”) or the serious (the 2009 extension of unemployment benefits).

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Now you’ll really know how a bill becomes a law.

[Images: Top, Wikipedia; Bottom, Many Bills]

[Hat Tip: The Solutions Journal]

Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.

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