A while back I blogged about a witty British group that’s pushing Parliament to make legislation more technologically accessible to the public with its “Nice, Polite Campaign to Gently Encourage Parliament to Publish Bills in a 21st-Century Way. Please. Now.”
I lamented the lack of such efforts in the United States and longed for tools that would let people easily search and track legislation (no easy task today, as anyone who has rooted around Thomas.gov for legislative information without a public policy degree knows), but also allow citizens the opportunity to provide feedback and help shape the proposed laws that will affect their lives.
Well, apparently there was no need to lament. Turns out there are some innovative, promising stateside websites and online conversations converging to create Legislation 2.0. And I heard all about them at a panel at the National Conference for Media Reform today.
First, there’s Open Congress, a handy project of the Sunlight Foundation and Participatory Politics Foundation that lets you search, track, and comment on legislation. Also check out PublicMarkup.org, another Sunlight effort that goes a step further. The site invited the public to help Sunlight refine their own legislative proposal, the Transparency in Government Act of 2008. They’re culling through the feedback, and a newly revised version of the bill is due out later this month.
“Legislation is essentially an outgrowth of conversation,” said Open Left cofounder and panelist Matt Stoller. “That conversation has been corrupted.” The internet offers a way for citizens to reclaim the dialogue from lobbyists. Stoller offered the real world example of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s efforts to open an online conversation on how to expand broadband access. Live blogging and an unexpected flurry of feedback ensued, unleashing the thoughts and passions of fired-up, informed constituents. And those are the folks that Senate staffers need to hear from (and be motivated by), said panelist Russell Newman, then a legislative aide for Durbin.
They’re all very encouraging developments in terms of democratizing legislation and shedding some light on the machinations of Congress. Before I go, I’ll just mention one more. It’s not about legislation per se, but rather the wining and dining that gets legislation flowing: This July the Sunlight Foundation will release Party Time, a database of all the D.C. hobnobbing, fundraising parties and the hosts who host them. Should be an interesting new tool for tracking the web of money and influence in Washington.