California State Assembly

Wiki to crowdsource changes to Calif. probate code

In what is being called the first instance of legislation being “purely crowdsourced,” proposed changes to the California probate code will be created via an online platform similar to Wikipedia’s.

 "This is a great way for people to have a voice in their government," said California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). "Too often, special-interest groups draft legislation. In contrast, 'crowdsourcing' a bill on the wiki platform will allow for a fully transparent brainstorming, drafting and editing process that will incorporate ideas from a large group of people. The collective wisdom of the public will choose the final product."

Citizens can draft, edit and view the bill’s history via an online wiki site, Edits can be made anonymously although participants can identify themselves on the site and add a short bio. 

Gatto believes the collaborative and self-policing nature of the wiki will help generate new ideas, provide transparency and eliminate clearly unworkable ideas. 

The idea for using wikis to solicit citizen input on policy or legislation is not new. According to the Atlantic, the first recorded use of collaborative technology to draft legislation was in 2007 when the New Zealand police commissioner put the widely criticized 1958 Police Act on a wiki and invited people to edit it. 

In 2007, Utah state Rep. Steve Urquhart, chairman of the Rules Committee of the Utah House of Representatives, launched Politicopia, a wiki-based forum for compiling information on actual bills pending before the legislature.

In 2010, Defense Department leaders used a wiki-based approach to gain feedback from stakeholders and the public on policy directives for the use of social networking and other Internet-based technologies.

And in 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) launched Project Madison, a public legislative drafting and comment tool initially designed to crowdsource the OPEN Act, an Internet-protecting alternative to SOPA and PIPA antipiracy legislation. Project Madison took off right out of the gate, with 157,000 unique visitors the first day, dozens of very specific suggestions, a growing Twitter following and praise from popular tech blogs, according to Fast Company. But since late 2012, the site has been inactive.

In his release, Gatto notes the wiki initiative strikes a balance between a suggestions-only approach and putting legislation entirely in the hands of the public without vetting by the legislature. On one side, the White House’s crowdsourcing initiative for drafting legislative text, Petitions.WhiteHouse.Gov, does not allow the public to directly draft legislative text. And there is no obligation by the government to act on citizen suggestions. On the flip side, California’s Ballot Initiative provides a process for any California voter to put an initiative or a referendum on the ballot.

According to Gatto, probate law was selected as the trial case for wiki-based collaboration because “large numbers of specialists exist with an interest in participating (lawyers, CPAs, etc.). But also, since almost everyone has had some experience in handling the death of a loved one, large numbers of the public are also likely to have an opinion on how California’s relevant laws could be improved.”

Gatto will introduce consensus results from the wiki by the state legislature’s bill-introduction deadline in early February 2014. Like any other bill, once introduced, both houses of the legislature and the governor would need to sign off on it for it to become law. 

"What if every legislator committed to doing one bill like this? The public will feel like they have taken back their government," Gatto told the Los Angeles Times.  

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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