Legislative IT workers join forces to create standard document markup language

Legislative IT workers join forces to create standard document markup language

Systems professionals from more than 20 state legislatures are helping develop the Legislative Document Markup Language, which would electronically standardize the reams of documents lawmakers generate.

'They're bills, amendments and historical records of what happened in legislation, but when you get down to the base level of it, it's just text,' said Sharon Crouch, Virginia House of Delegates systems director and Executive Committee chairwoman of the National Association of Legislative Information Technology.

Through a NALIT list server discussion, Illinois Legislative Information System project manager Tim Rice suggested that the states combine document management efforts. Standardization would promote electronic data sharing and prevent the states from developing duplicative proprietary systems, he said.

NALIT formed a task force that pored over the legislative documents of 30 states and found that about 80 percent of their elements were common, Rice said. The panel then developed a common document tag model based on Standard Generalized Markup Language principles.

Naming the tags was difficult, said participant Mark Allred, research and systems analyst for Utah's Office of Legislative Research & General Counsel. A daily agenda in one state might be called a calendar in another and a daily order in yet another.

'Once you get past the definitional things, you say, 'Well, you're using that for the same function,' ' Allred said.

Only technical workers would have to know the standardized tag names, Rice said. Legislators and staff could refer to items as they always have, he said.

Visit www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/multistate.htm for more information.

'Claire E. House

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