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Lawmaker puts skills to use at legislature
Crafts program to track, compare bills
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Forsyth County News

By the final days of the 2013 Georgia General Assembly, about half the computers and tablets being used by state representatives under the gold dome were on a website designed by Mike Dudgeon.

Dudgeon, a third-year lawmaker who serves south Forsyth in District 25, said it was rewarding to look around the chamber and see so many of his peers using the program.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I really felt good about it and I felt mostly good because I had some ... veterans come to me and say, ‘I wish I had this the past 10 years.’” 

Dudgeon, who has bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, has been in the technology business his entire career.

His program is simple in concept, but took about 50 hours of writing code to essentially do something that’s been in the software and legal industry for years.

It takes all the variations of a bill and allows the user to immediately compare any two versions, showing changes highlighted in yellow.

As a bill navigates the legislative process, amendments are added, portions are removed and it gets changed between the House and Senate and back again.

The legislature’s website doesn’t make it easy to track those changes, even internally, but Dudgeon’s program has remedied that.

“I immediately thought of the idea when I first got to the legislature [in 2011],” Dudgeon said. “And a group of us more tech-enthusiasts in the legislature ... thought we really ought to push on that.

“I went and wrote the program myself to save money so no one was arguing over how much it costs.”

Dudgeon created the program to cross party lines, even giving a tutorial to the Democratic caucus. He anticipates the program will be used by the Senate next session, however the public won’t be able to access the program, which uses the internal network to cull information.

Among his first test-runs of the program was retroactively on a bill that passed during the 2012 legislative session.

“It was my bill and I watched it like a hawk the whole way through,” he said. “And when I actually compared the final version the Senate passed with what we ended up passing ... there was one part they stuck in there that I didn’t see.

“It was very innocent, very minor. It was just funny to me that even in my own bill, I discovered something that was in there that I didn’t know about.”

The program does nothing for the handful of legislators that still read the bills only on paper. However, Dudgeon said he anticipates the system will be entirely electronic within a few years, as other states have done.

For freshman Rep. Geoff Duncan, who tracks bills almost exclusively electronically, the new program has made a major difference.

“The significance of Mike's software program is nearly immeasurable because of how much clarity and efficiency it brings to the legislative process for all of the House members,” said Duncan, the District 26 representative from Cumming.

“By the end of last session, reps from all over the state with varying levels of legislative experience were utilizing this tool for their own independent research allowing them the opportunity to make the best informed decisions for their constituents.”

Dudgeon said he’s proud of how frequently his program’s being used, but he’s not finished. He plans to tweak it, and is looking at writing more programs to help the legislature.

“We’ve got several ideas. Most of it is around a tool that helps legislators manage their e-mails and their contacts and their database so they can manage their constituent lists better,” he said.

The idea would be to create a constituent database that would put folks in different groups, like those that are concerned about lake issues, certain business sectors or nursing home matters.

“So if a nursing home bill comes up, I can get in touch with them about it because I can easily access who on my list cares about that,” Dudgeon said.

Technology is how Dudgeon earns a living, but he also feels it’s how he can contribute even more to his public service duties.

“It’s really important for me because I feel I’m there for service and I’m there to offer what strengths I have,” he said. “This is a strength that I can offer back. I’m really big on transparency and I’m really big on making sure that everybody knows what they’re voting on.”