State Senate Records Get More Transparent

The New York State Senate’s chief information officer team just launched an early version of their Open Legislation Portal today.

The site allows users to search for bills by sponsor, committee, recent actions, and recent votes. You can also search by keyword, like, say, “bicycle” and find relevant bills and data available in four different formats.

Most of this information was already available online, chief information officer Andrew Hoppin told the Observer. But it was dispersed over several different sites, didn’t have permanent links and was also “un-Google-able.” Bills also weren’t available in so many formats, in near real-time. The public can now find each bill through the portal and comment on it.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to get data directly into the Senate’s hands,” Mr. Hoppin told the Observer. But especially the people’s fingertips. “We didn’t just want to point people at it somewhere on the Web, but also make it available in a well-structured form for people to use and reuse in different forms.”

The site will mostly be useful for Senators, developers and media types looking to display specific data in charts during campaigns or check out a bill status. But Mr. Hoppin said he hopes more everyday citizens will be interested in the data as well.

“We wanted to sort of show that an important part of transparency is not just about the data literally being available or even being accessible,” he said. “It has to be easy to find so people can make use of it and share it and also give feedback.”

Mr. Hoppin and his team will update the site by the end of the month with more information that “has never been seen before on the Internet,” according to Mr. Hoppin, thanks to the rules reforms passed by the Senate in June. The data collected, which was previously only available by enacting the Freedom of Information Act, will include detailed transcripts of sessions, committee votes and committee attendance.

As the Observer reported in June, Ben Kallos, former chief of staff to Assemblyman Jonathan Bing who was working on Mark Green’s campaign, launched, which allowed users see how each lawmaker voted on a particular piece of legislation and see whether lawmakers attended their committee meetings. Mr. Kallos and a few of his colleagues paid for the site out of his own pocket.

The state’s moves to make this kind of data more available to the public are ahead of City Hall, where Gale Brewer, chair of the Council’s Technology in Government Committee, is leading the open legislation charge.

  State Senate Records Get More Transparent