Exclusive: Introducing Uprise RI’s BillBuddy

Today, we are announcing BillBuddy, an exciting tool that makes understanding RI state legislation and acting on it, regardless of your political views, easy and straightforward.

Rhode Island News: Exclusive: Introducing Uprise RI’s BillBuddy

September 11, 2023, 8:48 am

By Uprise RI Staff

Today, we are announcing BillBuddy, an exciting tool that makes understanding RI state legislation and acting on it, regardless of your political views, easy and straightforward.

Starting in January with the beginning of our next legislative session, Rhode Islanders can simply enter any bill number from the current session into BillBuddy and be presented with a summary of the bill in layman’s terms, with an unbiased list of Pros and Cons for both progressives and conservatives. But that is only the tip of what BillBuddy can do.

Typically, most people hear about new legislation from the media or from an advocacy group. Bills that do not make the evening news, the large majority of them, slip under the radar and voters often do not learn about them until they are passed into law or after it is too late to take meaningful action. BillBuddy aims to change this by giving Rhode Islanders the power to skip the middleman and learn about bills they care about the moment they are introduced.

Here’s how it works: Beginning this January, create a free account and choose the bill categories that interest you. Categories include criminal justice, climate, education, civil rights, and over 30 more. Starting in January, as new bills are introduced at the State House, our system immediately categorizes and summarizes them. When a bill is introduced that matches your selected category(s), you will receive an email with the bill number and a brief summary of the legislation in easy to understand language. No longer will you have to depend on the local news or your favorite advocacy groups to be alerted to important bills in the General Assembly. But wait, there’s more.

Alongside each bill summary will be two buttons: Support and Oppose. Click the applicable button based on your feelings about the bill, briefly explain why you feel this way, and we’ll send the message to your State Senator or Representative, automatically. Your state representatives are matched to the address you provide when you signed up, so there is no need to figure out who your reps are, how to contact them, or which chamber the bill belongs to. We take care of it all behind the scenes. Engaging with your local legislators and making your voice heard has never been easier.

Uprise RI spent nearly six months developing BillBuddy, using multiple AI models to accurately summarize bill text and present its Pros and Cons for both ends of the political spectrum based on established ideology, in neutral language without bias. “Based on our track record as a predominantly progressive organization, it is natural and, frankly, expected that conservatives may question our goal to present this information in an unbiased way,” said Uprise RI President, Greg Brailsford. “If the roles were reversed, I would be wary too. But I challenge any skeptics to try it out, review the examples for past legislation, and judge for yourself. Our goal is to increase civic engagement and keep the public informed. If there is a bias in the information presented, people will see right through it and stop using the tool. We are committed to ensuring that does not happen.”

Uprise RI is utilizing a similar tactic as they have with RI Rank: dropping party labels. RI Rank intentionally omits legislators’ party affiliation in its rankings, and BillBuddy will follow in this path by omitting not only party affiliation, but the sponsor(s) of the bill as well. Brailsford added, “We still provide a direct link to the bill where a list of sponsors can be found, but we feel the sponsor(s) should not be a determining factor as to whether one supports a bill. There is precedence for good legislation being killed in the GA because of who sponsored it. For example, many progressives support Ranked Choice Voting. But for years the only RCV bill being introduced in the General Assembly came from a Republican, Blake Filippi. If there is a good bill out there that people support, it should not matter who introduced it.”

BillBuddy underwent dozens of iterations and was benchmarked against many types of bills and scenarios to make certain that everybody that uses the tool will receive an honest, candid assessment of what each bill is about, what it seeks to accomplish, and how it might affect you based on your politics, which may not be the same as those of Uprise RI.

The launch of BillBuddy is part of Uprise RI’s new aim to bridge the gap between the two major political factions. Ultimately, we believe that both sides want the same things. People want to be healthy, safe, treated fairly, and feel valued. Where the sides differ is on how that is achieved. Rather than asking each BillBuddy user for their political affiliation and only displaying the Pros and Cons for that side, we made a conscious decision to show the Pros and Cons for both ideologies to everyone so that users can see how the other side of the spectrum may think with regards to the bill. Added Brailsford, “The key to finding common ground or converting someone to your way of thinking is by understanding where they are coming from, and it does not seem like either side has made a good-faith effort to do this. We want to do our part to help make this happen, while also providing helpful summaries of bills that are oftentimes too lengthy and confusing for people to understand.”

BillBuddy will become available to Uprise RI supporters in December and to the general public in early January. For more information on BillBuddy, to read sample bill summaries, and to join the waitlist for access, visit Uprise RI’s BillBuddy page.