Arizona Voices Institute

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In order to help bridge the gap between the state legislature and the general public, a new non-profit has been formed. The Arizona Voices Institute provides a web site where people can rate a bill and give ideas to state lawmakers. Steve Betts, board chairman of the Arizona Voices Institute, will tell us more.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. U.S. Representatives from Arizona and Nevada have introduced legislation that would extend the proposed route for interstate 11 into southern Arizona and northern Nevada. Republican Paul Gosar and democrat Ann Kirkpatrick were among those who introduced the bill. Funding for I-11 has yet to be finalized, though portions of the planned interstate have already been built as improvements to existing roadways. And Arizona's jobless rate dropped 0.1% to 6.5% in February. That's still a full percentage point above the national average. 29,000 jobs were added in Arizona with leisure and hospitality leading the way. 9 of 11 job sectors showed gains last month in the state.

Ted Simons: Critics of Arizona politics often point to a perceived disconnect between the public and the state legislature. Arizona Voices Institute is a new nonprofit that hopes to connect the public with lawmakers by way of a website that allows for suggestions and feedback to legislators. Here to tell us more is Steve Betts, board chairman of the Arizona Voices Institute. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Steve Betts: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: Arizona Voices, what is that?

Steve Betts: It's a very interesting website. I like to say it's a Facebook for legislation, to allow the average citizen, the average voter of Arizona to be able to connect to legislation, and then to be able to comment on that legislation, to be able to even vote on that legislation so that legislators can then watch that, go online and look at what his or her voters are saying about that legislation.

Ted Simons: So how do people use Arizona Voices? How do get their voice heard?

Steve Betts: Go to www.azvoices.gov. Go on and you can then search through legislation, find legislation that interests you, read about it, comment on it. If you're a registered voter, you can then go in and you can actually on a like scale, can say I like it very much, I like it a little bit, I'm neutral, I dislike it or I dislike it a lot. And reflect that to the legislature. If you're not a registered voter, you can actually go and register to vote on the site. It will take you to the secretary of state's website and allow you to register to vote. So we hope that through this process, it will actually encourage people to register.

Ted Simons: I like the idea of grading legislation or at least pending legislation. As you rate the legislation, can you make comments along the way?

Steve Betts: Yes, we can and we hope the comments will help the legislature also to maybe modify the legislation, to make it something that their voters might think is a little bit more acceptable and the legislature can go and in look at the legislation as a whole, 200 voters don't like this for a particular reason or they can break it down into their particular district and look at what their district voters think about the legislation.

Ted Simons: So I'm in district x, I look on the website and I see that a lot of folks in district x, they're not too happy or they really like this legislation. I use that as an input, a data point.

Steve Betts: Exactly. So you're a senator and you're sitting at a legislative hearing and the lobbyist, the proponent of that bill is speaking to the bill. Average citizens have a difficult time showing up at those hearings because of the way they're scheduled and the time of day they are. Maybe that senator only hears from that lobbyist, but the senator can open up their laptop which they all have, they can go and in look and say that lobbyist likes it but I'm looking here and I see that 28 of my constituents, my voters, don't like it.

Ted Simons: I notice there's an idea lab, as well. This is where I can go online and I can say I've got an idea, what do you think?

Steve Betts: That concept is for during the session or after the session is over, looking forward to the next session, for folks in Arizona to say, you know, I haven't seen legislation on this topic. This is an idea that I have. I would like to see some legislation on this particular topic or this particular idea. So it gives legislators an opportunity to pick up ideas for legislation.

Ted Simons: I know there's a way to discuss issues and policies with others, as well. How do you keep everything we've talked about right now civil?

Steve Betts: Yeah. Well, we do not go in and try to play the referee. We hope that people will, in fact, do this in a civil way. Fighting words, we try to keep out of there and that kind of thing but this is a nonpartisan group so people from both sides of the political spectrum are on this site and hopefully, the great masses in between are on this site. People have a right to say, First Amendment applies to this site. So people are going to have the right to say whatever they want to say.

Ted Simons: A little concerned that you can keep it nonpartisan?

Steve Betts: I don't have any concerns about keeping it nonpartisan. It is going to be -- whoever signs up and goes on and does it. I hope that if people from one particular side get on that folks from the other side are going to say I don't want them to take it over so we're going to get our folks to get on this site and so far, that's been case. If you look at the folks, there are 25,000 folks that have gotten on the site at this point to go in and research legislation and review legislation. There's another 5,000 that have actually registered to go on to vote on legislation and they're pretty much all across the board.

Ted Simons: Sounds great. Sounds interesting. Are lawmakers aware of this? Are they paying attention? This could be an exercise in futility if they're not paying attention.

Steve Betts: This is the first time it's ever been tried anywhere in the country. This is groundbreaking and so they're learning about it and more and more are signing up for it and more and more are using it and anecdotally we hear about legislators who are flipping open and looking at what their voters think about this. But this session is moving very, very quickly, and there's a lot of work to be done out there so I give them a little bit of a break on this. It's a new tool but I think as more of them learn about the tool, as more of them hear about it and as more of their voters get on the tool I think more of them will use it.

Ted Simons: You bring up what could be a challenge, in a session like this when everyone is hurtling as fast as they can to get out of there and I don't think half the lawmakers know what they're looking at nowadays, how do you get the lawmakers to pay attention to what the website is saying, but for those on the website to understand what they're commenting on?

Steve Betts: That is a challenge, no question about that. The nice thing is the website ties directly into ledge council, it's very current with the legislation. We can keep the site very current on the legislative side. So people can get on and look at it every night when they get home from work if they want to stay current on the legislation and we do have prompts. We have the ability for people, if all they care about is animal welfare legislation, to pick something that's kind of hot right now, they will get little pings every time that particular type of legislation comes up. So there are ways to sort of help people stay current.

Ted Simons: Last question. How did this get started? Was there one particular incident that was an impetus for this? How did all this get going?

Steve Betts: I have to give credit where credit is due, senator Sob Worsly who had just joined the legislature two sessions ago, it was his brainchild, his idea. He sensed that a lot of average citizens are having a difficult time reaching their legislators, either in person or by e-mail or letter or in person, and showing up at hearings was a difficult thing, oftentimes they're during the work day. And he's somebody that's very entrepreneurial and understands how websites work. Working with the secretary of state Ken Bennet and Mike Braun and ledge council. They worked with a website producer and the rest of us have kind of taken it from there.

Ted Simons: Good luck with this. I hope you can make a difference. We always need a difference to be made out there. Congratulations and we hope to hear more from you soon.

Steve Betts: Thank you.

Steve Betts:Board Chairman of the Arizona Voices Institute

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