Portal to track state, local legislation

OpenGovernment beta includes reports from five states; plans call for all 50, plus city and other local jurisdictions

The nonprofit group behind OpenCongress.org has launched a beta version of a similar site to track bill in state legislatures.

The OpenGovernment.org site, a joint effort of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation, went live Jan. 18 with legislative reports from five states: California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and Wisconsin.

Organizers plan to eventually have information from all 50 states, including local and city jurisdictions, Ellen Miller, the Sunlight Foundation’s executive director, writes in a blog post introducing the site.

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“The project pulls together official announcements, news coverage, blog posts, social media alerts and more to give a truly illustrative picture of local government,” Miller writes. “OpenGovernment also makes it easy for citizens to self-organize around issues they care being debated by state legislatures and contact their elected officials directly from bill pages.”

Sunlight Labs’ Open State project, with help from volunteers, produced the legislative backend for the site, Miller writes. Open State uses scrapers to pull information from states’ websites on legislation, which usually is not kept in structured formats.

By putting state and local legislative date into a single portal, OpenGovernment’s team says it wants to allow people to keep a closer watch on what’s going on in government.

In a separate blog post, David Moore, executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation, writes that, over the next year, OpenGovernment will “seek nonprofit funding support to roll out OpenGovernment to all 50 U.S. states, dozens of major cities, other countries and beyond.”

The site is based on OpenCongress, which Moore said gets more than a million visits per month and millions of requests for data each day. When OpenCongress was started in 2004, the goal was to take the data available on the Library of Congress’ THOMAS site for legislative information and make it more accessible, with tools to track bills’ status, view comments and share information with others, Moore writes.

The goal for OpenGovernment is the same. “There are a lot of factors involved here that really motivate us: fighting systemic corruption, liberating public data, advocating comprehensive electoral reform, facilitating peer-to-peer communication about our government, empowering citizen watchdogs,” Moore writes, “but one of the primary ones is creating user-friendly interfaces for this baffling and arcane world of legislative data.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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