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Tracing the Flow of Policy Ideas in Legislatures: A Computational Approach

For more than 50 years, researchers have rated legislators' effectiveness by whether the bills they sponsor make it out of committee or into law. The goal of this project is to study the progress of legislators' policy ideas rather than bills, based upon the common observations that very few bills become law (only about 4%) and that the substance of bills evolves as they move through the lawmaking process. To identify policy ideas, we use text reuse methods from computer science to compare the similarity of bill sections. Sections that exceed a threshold of similarity are assumed to be the same idea. We then trace the progress of ideas, as opposed to bills, through the process to investigate important questions about lawmaking.