Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Legislative information wants to be free

 At ALICE, we’re always excited to hear about ways that legislative data is being made more easily accessible. This is one area where information wants to be free -- and really ought to be free.
 
At the federal level, the Library of Congress maintains congress.gov, which has replaced the old Thomas library of legislative information. Most readers have probably used one or the other.
 
At the state level, state legislatures each have a website. Some are great, some are a total pain. If you want to track legislation across 50 states, it used to be that you'd have to visit 50 different clunky websites. Then the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) created a bill information service, with access limited to legislators and staff. (NCSL also maintains topic-specific databases that are searchable and open to the public.) But recently, data geeks have made state legislative information searchable by the public, through portals like Open States and Bill Track 50
 
For searching model law, there’s always the ALICE library. And, thanks to the good work of ALEC Exposed, even the ALEC library, which was once members-only, is now open to the public. 
 
What about cities? There are far more of them than there are states, and they have even fewer resources available for making legislative information open to the public. But here again, data geeks have been hard at work, and there seem to be great things on the horizon. Thousands of city codes are now available via municode. The next step is to make it easier to track municipal ordinances, and here Councilmatic appears to be leading the way. It was created a few years ago for the City of Philadelphia by Code for America, and the open source technology has since been redeployed by DataMade to Chicago and Oakland. In a sign that this sort of data really does want to be free, DataMade has shared the basic code that scrapes legislative data on GitHub.
 
We hope you find these resources to be useful. Know of other online portals for legislative data that we haven't included here? If so, please share them in the comments!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legislation_law/2014/12/legislative-information-wants-to-be-free.html

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