by Sarah Gostchall
Recently a professor asked me which of our available online services – Westlaw Edge, Lexis Advance, or Bloomberg Law – I would recommend to track Arizona bills on a particular topic. Years have passed since I last set up a legislative alert, so I decided to reinvestigate and compare the systems anew, though I was fairly sure I would go with Lexis Advance since I already like the colorful bill passage prediction graphic on the system’s bill tracking reports.
Lexis Advance, with its relatively new (2016) predictive analytics Legislative Outlook feature, was the clear winner. Though Bloomberg Law has a number of statutory tracking features for select areas of law, such as banking, tax, IP, etc., it doesn’t have a Arizona bill tracking database with all Arizona bills. And Westlaw Edge has the same old same old – alerts and Arizona Bill Tracking database reports appear unchanged after the revamp.
Only Lexis Advance has invested in state bill tracking in recent times, adding a predictive analytics feature to its traditional state bill tracking reports. Predictive analytics are, of course, all the rage in the research world! Descriptive analytics are great for understanding and visualizing the past, but the next step is to harness the knowledge to inform the future.
The lives of many bills in our highly partisan state legislatures are nasty, brutish, and short – mainly short! Of the 1206 bills introduced in the Arizona legislature in 2018, only 346 were eventually signed into law. The vast majority of those successful bills were introduced by the Republican majority, with the Democratic bills usually quickly dying in committee. To help the researcher pluck the living from the sea of presumed dead, each bill tracking report has a Legislative Outlook Gauge which indicates the likelihood of the bill passing to the next stage in the legislative process. Each reports also has a Legislative Outlook in Detail screen that shows the probability of further passage to each stage, as well as information about the bill sponsor, the majority party, and other details.
Bill Tracking Report Example
As an example, the Lexis Advance bill tracking report for Arizona H.B. 2472, a bill currently pending in the Arizona House of Representatives, is shown below. Among other provisions, the bill requires that, before giving a vaccination, a health care professional must inform a patient that, if applicable, he/she could consent to an antibody test which tests for natural immunity before receiving the vaccination. The Legislative Outlook Gauge is optimistic about the bill, the green indicating a “high chance to pass next stage.”
Clicking on Legislative Outlook in Detail provides additional predictions about the bill’s future, as well as information about the sponsor, the status of the legislative session, and party affiliations of both chambers and the governor.
How Does It Know?
Seems like very useful information! Who makes these predictions? LexisNexis owns State Net which has been in the legislative prediction business for years. Since State Net was around when predictive analytics was just a gleam in the eye of some computer scientists, presumably people at LexisNexis know how to predict legislative results the old fashioned way – by hiring experts, reading the news, hanging out at the legislature, etc. Do the Lexis Advance people call up the State Net and folk and just slap the prediction percentages on the bills? It doesn’t seem so, according to the 2016 press release announcing Legislative Outlook. It states that, with an “unmatched set of content, we are able to layer powerful analytics solutions to deliver insights behind the raw data” and that the system works by “analyzing state legislative patterns, key probability indicators and historical patterns to forecast probable future outcomes.”
How accurate are Legislative Outcome’s predictions? Sadly lacking access to State Net, I was unable to compare competing LexisNexis product predictions, so turned to the news to see if the bill was still alive. There was a flurry of articles after the bill’s last legislative action on February 26, 2019, which quote the Arizona Republican governor as promising to take no action which would result in fewer Arizona children receiving vaccinations, without specifically addressing his view on antibody tests. According to current articles, the legislative session has dragged 21 days past the usual adjournment date due to failure to pass a budget. No other bills are being discussed at this late date, and everyone wants to adjourn, so it probably fair to say that the “high chance to pass next stage” prediction was wrong in this case. I suppose the algorithmn can be forgiven for failing to foresee an intervening measles outbreak (if that was a factor in derailing the bill)?
Room for Improvement?
I like analytics and data visualization products in general, and have been using Legislative Outlook as an example of a predictive analytics feature in class for the last two or three years. As much as I like it, there is always room for improvement! Considering that Legislative Outlook is supposed to save time by providing an at-a-glance indication of a bill’s importance (i.e., likelihood to pass), the results list view and functionality is somewhat of a failure. When viewing a results list from a search or an alert from either the AZ Full-Text Bills or AZ Bill Tracking Reports databases, there is no option to filter your list by Legislative Outlook information, for example, to view only those bills 80% or more likely to pass. As a further impediment, the results list view for both databases does not show Legislative Outlook Information at all – one must laboriously click into each bill or bill tracking report to view it.