John from Henrietta recently contacted me, wanting to know where his elected officials stood on religious-liberty protections. These conscience protections have been debated in the wake of a new federal mandate that employers’ health-insurance plans pay for artificial contraception, sterilization and other services.
John is in luck. Thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to access voting records. One starting place is to become a member of the Catholic Advocacy Network, run by the New York State Catholic Conference. The network keeps tabs on pending state legislation that concerns Catholics and offers tools to take action.
Current and past state legislation also is available here for the state Senate and here for the state Assembly. Votes on past bills are easier to find if you know the bill number. For instance, look up A-11723 to find voting records for Assembly members on the 2002 Women’s Health and Wellness Act, which mandated insurance coverage of contraception for all but a few religious employers in New York state.
On the federal level, the Library of Congress’ Thomas system has comprehensive information on bills pending and votes taken. Through Thomas, we can find that New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand voted against Sen. Roy Blunt’s recent amendment to the health-care-reform law, which would have exempted employers from paying for insurance coverage for services to which they had moral objections. The amendment was tabled March 1 in the U.S. Senate by a 51-48 vote; view the voting record here.
Just keep in mind that vote tallies lack context that news reports can sometimes provide as to why a politician voted for or against a bill. Although there are tools out there to help voters make informed decisions at election time, there’s no substitute for following politics year-round.