A startup launched this year is offering organizations legislative information and tools that can help them make better business decisions. The service, called FiscalNote, provides monitoring, tracking, analyzation and outcome prediction for state legislation in all 50 states.
Now available only as a paid service to track state legislation, the company plans to soon expand to include both federal, city and county level legislation services, and eventually include a service for individuals.
Overall, government could stand to gain from FiscalNote, according to Michael Weaver, the company's executive of business development and strategy, especially when its federal, city and county legislation tools are rolled out. The service, he says, can help them make better strategic decisions.
FiscalNote offers much of the same functionality found on free websites such as Congress.gov, the government’s official outlet for legislative documents. Congress.gov contains old and new legislation, the Congressional Record, and information on committees and congress members. It’s a bountiful resource, but it leaves enough missing features that other websites, like FiscalNote, have surfaced to pick up the slack.
OpenCongress.org is another such site; it makes use of the data provided by Congress.gov, but adds a more modern user interface and more functionality, such as links to write congress members either in support or opposition of the bill being viewed, bill tracking capabilities, and unofficial voting functionality for registered users.
GovTrack.us is similar to OpenCongress.gov, but with a stronger focus on tracking state legislation and analyzing federal legislation. Users of GovTrack can track bills, browse by legislative categories (such as Commerce or Native Americans), and get summaries and other information about bills, such as a bill’s prognosis for making it to the next stage of the legislative process.
Despite the availability of these sites that offer up, for free, essentially the same information, many organizations -- including Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies -- opt instead to pay up to tens of thousands of dollars each month to receive legislation tracking, research and prediction services from FiscalNote.
The kind of value users get from FiscalNote varies for each organization, Weaver said. “Some organizations like the prediction because it provides the first data-backed tool to give companies peace of mind," he said, "and [they're] being more proactive and using their resources more strategically or just mitigating that risk."
FiscalNote’s prediction algorithm has about a 93 percent accuracy rate in predicting whether a bill will become law, according to the company -- an accuracy rate that is based on seven years of legislative predictions. FiscalNote’s prediction algorithm works by looking at the bill’s sponsors, semantics and other traits.
Any organization that can be impacted by new or changing laws can benefit from FiscalNote’s services, Weaver said. “Non-profits are strapped for resources, but they still have a need to understand what’s going on in the different states they have an interest in,” Weaver explained, adding that FiscalNote provides a cost-effective tool for some of these smaller organizations to provide analysis of the legislative landscape and how it affects their business. "They can understand it more without having to spend a lot of money on lobbying or hiring public affairs teams," he said. "They really love the discovery of these legislations.”
In fact, Weaver noted, this is how FiscalNote was born. FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang was the President of an advocacy organization for American youths. In this role, Hwang found that he needed to hire eight legislative analysts to keep his organization up to date on new bills, help him understand how they affected his constituents and filter out the white noise. His degree in computer science made it clear to him that it would be worth pursuing a more automated approach to such data analysis, and FiscalNote was born.
Some organizations just want to know about new bills, Weaver said, and some organizations just want to know about bills pertaining a certain topic like minimum wage. Walmart, for instance, had a great interest in the minimum wage increase bill that passed and was then vetoed in Washington, D.C., last year, Weaver said, adding that being able to accurately predict what is going to happen with these types of legislations is of great value to many organizations.
Louis Carr, CIO, Clark County, Nev.
Louis Carr, CIO for Clark County, Nev., commented that legislation can have a significant impact on how many government agencies do business and affect their processes.
“Oftentimes those department processes are tied to systems, so it can be something as simple as raising the fees for business licenses," he said. "Well, that means we need to make adjustments to our system and if there are wholesale changes to laws like this federal healthcare legislation, that’s a whole set of changes."
Most agencies spend time tracking legislation that could affect their processes already, Carr said, so if this service works for the private sector, it could possibly work for government, too.
“If this solution does pan out to be everything they’re claiming it is, it could be a huge benefit,” he said. “Now, we would still track the implications – fiscal impact, staffing impact – those sorts of things we would want to track, but they may come out with some additional intelligence that could help us even track that.”