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February 28th, 2013 by wbaumann
The idea for the Sunlight Foundation’s, Open States Project, began in 2009. From an initial core of volunteers from several states, the project has gathered volunteer contributors from all 50 staes plus Wash. D.C. & Puerto Rico. With additional contributions of computer expertise and a grant to build the public web site, the Open States web site is now operational.
The interface allows citizens to locate their state representatives by entering an address or clicking on online maps or entering a legislator’s name. Short biographical information, plus some news stories are provided. Links to the bills that the legislator has sponsored and recent votes on other legislation are presented. Summary charts of campaign contributions are provided with links to more detailed data from followthemoney.org and opensecrets.org .
Bills for the current and several past legislative sessions can be searched by chamber, sponsor, status, type of bill or resolution, and subject ( free text not an index). The full text of the bill can be called up. Roll call votes are also accessible. There is a tracking tool called Scout from the Sunlight Foundation that alerts you when Congress or your state capitol talks about or takes action on issues you care about.
Open States tutorial
February 5th, 2013 by wbaumann
In a recent posting on the blog of the Canadian legal news web site, Slaw, Judith Gaskell, former Director of the Law Library of Congress and former Director of the DePaul Rinn Law library, wrote about the present status of UELMA ( Unifrom Elecronic Materials Act ) .
UELMA was drafted in response to a request from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), following the AALL’s 2007 National Summit on Authentication of Digital Legal Information. She reports on it’s introduction into the legislatures of several states and it’s adpotion by two of these. She also briefly descibes the basic requirements under the act.
Working through the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State laws ( Uniform Law Commission ), advocates develop uniform state laws that can eventually be introduced to states for their adoption. Much work and discussion goes into the creation of such an act. And much publicizing and lobbying is required to gain adoption. UELMA is only five pages long. But the fact that the Commission has dedignated UELMA as a “uniform law”, attests to the importance it attaches to the issue.
“The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act establishes an outcomes-based, technology-neutral framework for providing online legal material with the same level of trustworthiness traditionally provided by publication in a law book.” The Act itself covers three critical areas: authentication, preservation and public access.”
Sections 5 and 6 of the Act cover authentication. Section 5 requires the state to insure that the record received by the user is unaltered from the official published record . Section 6 ceates a presumption that the authenticated record is accurate and can only be challenged by a preponderance of the evidence. Section 8 deals with public access.
The need for legislation like UELMA became clear as more and more states began publishing legal information electronically and also beginning to discontinue their print publications containing this information. For the purposes of public information and for use in litigation, questions arose regarding the staus of such electronically-published materials. Could they be relied upon as accurate and official versions of the former hard copy sources ?
The application of UELMA in several states, that have introduced it, covers several main sources of legal information : the state constitution, statutes & codes, session laws, agency rules. But intermediate documents in the law-making process, such as bills, amendments and proposed rules are not included. Judicial opinions may also not be included , usually in defrence to the judicial branch, on separation of powers considerations.
Section 8 of the uniform act provides for permanent public access. However, given some of the language of this section there is room for discretion in implementation by the states. The standards state that legal materials should be ” reasonably available” and would allow for the removal of such material under “reasonable conditions”.
Under these standards the format and interface used to distribute the information online, could actually impede public access. Materials that are suppose to be retained permanently, could still be removed. Even fees for public access could be implimented under this wording.
There is another aspect of “public access” that was not meant to be part of UELMA but that is worth mentioning since it may become of increasing importance in the future. The federal government has been providing freely accessible data sets from many of its agencies for use by non-profit and for-profit entities, to use to create new applications and information products for the public and the marketplace.
UELMA was not written to address this secondary form of “public access” in the context of the states. Advocates of greater public access would hope that the state agency or official named as the “official publisher”, according to the law, would be aware of and amenable to providing access to this type of data for reuse, as well as the traditional versions of the text of laws and regulations.
December 18th, 2012 by wbaumann
Mayor Emanuel has moved quickly to have city agencies assemble and distribute data from their operations. This data will also be used internally for data analysis to improve city decision-making and management. To carry out these missions, he has appointed a Chief Data Officer who will be working with an Open Data Advisory Group made up of data coordinators from each City agency.
The agencies will be expected to publish public data sets on a regular basis. In addition to providing information regarding the functioning of the city executive, it is expected that the released data will serve as a platform for the creation of innovative tools that will improve the lives of all residents.
To improve City operations, the Mayor has launched a citywide data collection project that is being funded by a grant from the Chicago-based , MacArthur Foundation. It will consolidate the data into a singular data platform for analysis that can inform decision-making and improve operations.
In a December 14, press release the Mayor announced the release of an unprecedented amount of data on the City’s procurement process. This will include “…posting all winning and losing bids and proposals submitted by vendors online anytime a contract is awarded, including all line items of competitive bids. DPS will start posting these documents online during the first quarter of 2013…”
Two other initiatives will go beyond just the City of Chicago. “MetroChicagoData.org” will combine public data from Chicago and multiple local governments and the State into a single portal. Moving beyond the local geography, the City is partnering with New York, San Francisco , Seattle and the federal government on an initiative called “Cities.Data.Gov”. This portal is designed to help city officials and developers, working together, to improve the information available to their residents.
The efforts on all these extensive data collection and distribution initiatives, does lend much credibility to the Emanuel administration’s commitment to fostering real transparency and accountability.
October 12th, 2012 by wbaumann
Until recently, Illinois was one of only 14 states without regular photography in any of its judicial circuits at the trial court level. Although it allowed cameras in its Supreme Court and appellate courts since 1983. Nearby states Iowa, since 1979 and Wisconsin, since 1978, have had policies for cameras in the trial courtrooms.
The state’s Supreme Court earlier this year authorized cameras and other electronic recording devices for courtrooms on an experimental, circuit-by-circuit basis. The state’s Supreme Court has provided numerous guidelines ( “How it will work” ) that the media must follow and that retain control of the process by judges. Witnesses are also provided with discretion not to be the subjects of courtroom cameras.
The Daily Herald reports that “Since January, five circuits serving 13 counties have applied for and received the permission for expanded media coverage. DuPage County likely is next, court officials said, followed by Cook County sometime before the end of the year.”
In Cook County, Chief Judge Timothy Evans has been particularly forceful in getting cameras introduced into civil and criminal courtrooms in Cook County. In a Chicago Tribune story, Justice Evans hints that he might even re-assign judges who resist this the process. “…[He] referred to his power to reassign judges when he discussed how he doesn’t want to see the pilot project thwarted “because of the recalcitrance of one judge.”
While there are proponents for the introduction of cameras among the public, the media, the legislature and some judges, there are important issues that need careful consideration if the process is to be implemented fairly and without too many unintended consequences.
In a forthcoming law review article, “The Conundrum of Cameras in the Courtroom”, by Nancy S. Marder, Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, while directed at the issue of cameras in the federal courts, provides some cautions that would apply to state courts as well.
She says that “Judges need to recognize that neither television nor Internet images are neutral or objective.” “…The traditional view of cameras is as the all-seeing eye: They are turned on and they simply record what is before them. What is missing from this account is that the placement of the camera, the focus on a particular subject to the exclusion of all others, the editing of the images, and the voice-over that accompanies the images, give shape to the story. Because images are powerful and the story is woven seamlessly, it is easy to lose sight of what has been omitted and what choices have been made in the process.”
Also, since pre-trial hearings may also be broadcast and recorded, the effect of sometimes prejudicial pre-trial publicity, will need to be considered, to preserve the fairness of a trial.
Professor Marder’s article speaks to the broader responsibility required from those who produce the media and even those who consume their product, to be critical users of the information these images from the courtroom, purport to convey. She speaks of a developing “social etiquette” that will hopefully develop to address these broader factors that will affect the impact of courtroom cameras on all participants.
Speaking of federal trial courts she says that, “Until there is a camera etiquette, courts should continue to proceed slowly because everyone is a potential cameraman and a potential subject on the Web. Courts are no longer dealing with just three major television networks that would abide by certain rules….” State courts are operating in the same changing technological and social environment.
While many proponents share Judge Evans’s enthusiasm for making the workings of the courts more visible, accessible and accountable, a rushed introduction without sufficient attention to the interests of all potentially affected parties, may actually hinder the wide acceptance of cameras in Illinois trial courtrooms. As Professor Marder argues, social standards and expectations may need to evolve further, before the basis for long term viability and acceptance are in place.
May 14th, 2012 by wbaumann
With the first spending bill of the year, The House Appropriations Committee’s bill for Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations, slashes government’s data collection arm by 25 percent. The cuts in question target the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau . The U.S. House of Representatives voted (232 – 190) to eliminate all funding for the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which replaced the traditional census long form starting with the 2010 Census. These cuts follow the Obama’s own proposed cuts to the bureau’s budget.
A U.S. Department Of Commerce, Office of Inspector General’s report, in June 2011, raised questions re. the cost of conducting the ten-year census mandated by the constitution. However, the Census Bureau has been striving to cut administrative costs, re-engineer their survey processes to bring down its costs while maintaining the quality & accuracy of the statistics gathered.
But for most of the congresspersons who want to gut the Census Bureau, it’s not only about costs. “Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) famously declared she would not fill out her 2010 Census form, even though doing so is required by the Constitution and law. Bachmann even raised the specter of the World War II-eraJapanese interment camps to argue against the Census.”
And while the Economic Census is the foundation for the country’s most important measures of our economy, House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) claims that “This legislation roots out extraneous, duplicative and unnecessary programs while prioritizing some of the most critical aspects of government,” One wonders how having accurate & authoritative economic data, esp. in these times, can be seen as unnecessary !
The damage that these apparently ideologically motivated cuts will cause is significant. “The Census Bureau would have to terminate major statistical programs, cease critical data collection and vital benchmark reports on the nation’s economy, population and housing, as well as lay off off as many as 700 employees.”
As Census Director Robert M. Groves states, The ACS is our country’s only source of small area estimates on social and demographic characteristics.” Manufacturers, retail businesses , home builders, local communities all rely on its updated data. “There is no substitute from the private sector for ACS small area estimates.”
The cuts would prevent the continuing work on finalizing the results from the 2010 census. Also, not being able to test new methods will probably mean that the 2020 census will not be at a lower cost per household than that of the 2010 Census. If saving taxpayer money is a real motive, the cuts don’t really further that objective.
Business interests do not support the proposed drastic cuts. “The Chamber of Commerce, for example, strongly advocates funding them, since its members rely so much on the information they provide on basic things such as household spending, per capita income, and population estimates. ” Andrew Reamer, a research professor at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy states that “The loss of the American Community Survey will cause chaos and inefficiency in the operations of business and government in the U.S.,”
As Phillip Swagel, an economist and nonresident scholar at American Enterprise Institute states, “Those agencies are essential,” “The data they provide really tell us what’s going on in the economy. This shouldn’t be a political issue.” Unfortunately, it appears, that is exactly what it has become.
March 26th, 2012 by Beverly Burmeister
The 2012 lndiana legislative session is now completed. The Republican majority in the legislature mainly focused on their hot agenda items, including successfully passing Right to Work legislation. However, they did pass a bill to improve access to information by putting some teeth into requests for access to public records.
HB1003 Public Access Issues attempts to assure access by the public to meetings conducted electronically, and also assesses a fine to public officials who deny requests for access to public records. Citizens will not be denied access to these records if:
- They have contacted the state public access counselor
- The public access counselor has issued an advisory opinion that instructs the agency to allow access to the public record.
This issue has been before the legislature in various forms for several years without passage. This is the first time that personal penalties will be imposed for breaking the law. Hopefully, this will strengthen open records and open meeting laws already on the books.
March 26th, 2012 by wbaumann
The U.S. Census Bureau, responsible for publishing the Statistical Abstract of the United States (Stats Abstract), announced in March 2011 that it would cease production of the Statistical Abstract after the 2012 edition, ( see Statistical Abstract of U.S. Going Away ? )
It had functioned as both as an answer book and source guide. It had been used by librarians and public patrons for generations to help answer a myriad of statistical inquiries with both government and privately gathered data. Even with widespread lobbying by users and librarians, the Census Bureau said it would not continue the Stats Abstract “due both to substantial budgetary constraints and the need to prioritize several new data gathering endeavors.” While government budgets are indeed tight, one wonders why such a valuable information tool would not also be considered a priority.
Sometimes private sector publishers have take over previously free government titles which they turn into commercial products that former users must then pay for access to. In the late 1990s several government publications became privatized including : “Significant Features of Fiscal Federalism”, “Handbook of Labor Statistics”, “Business Statistics of the United States”, “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” and “U.S. Industrial Outlook” . ( See Robert Oakley, Testimony Regarding S. 2288, The Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act Of 1998)
However, in this case, two private sector actors have come to the rescue of a valuable publication that the government has just chosen not to continue providing ! A fortuitous reversal of some past practices by private publishers.
ProQuest, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based electronic publisher and microfilm publisher and Bernan, leading distributor of essential government publications and publisher of reference works based on government data, have partnered to bring back the venerable “Statistical Abstract of the United States”, as a print and an online product. This partnership will ensure the continuation of a the premier reference source that was fist published in 1878.
The new commercial Stats Abstract volume will be an 8.5 x 11 in. hardcover and will contain approximately the same number of tables as previous government editions. Libraries around the country have a spot ready for the 2013 edition.
The considerable staff of statistical editors at ProQuest will handling the production of the online version of the Stats Abstract. According to the press release, “The digital version will include monthly updates to tables, deep searching at the line-item level, powerful facets for narrowing search results, image and spreadsheet versions of all current and historical tables, along with links to provider sites.” This is an advance over the format of the previous government online versions which are PDF reproductions of the print version.
Congratulations to ProQuest and Bernan for not only seizing a business opportunity but also serving the information needs of countless citizens who were left “high and dry” by the U.S. Census Bureau.
March 7th, 2012 by Jamie Sommer
On March 16, 2012 the FDLP will shut down GPO Access. Users who visit GPO Access will be redirected to FDSys. The e-CFR will continue to be available.
For full details, read the GPO Access to FDsys Transition from the FDLP.
February 29th, 2012 by wbaumann
Rulemaking is the policy-making process for Executive and Independent agencies of the Federal government. Agencies use this process to develop and issue new regulations.
The recently redesigned ” regulations.gov ” website has made changes that facilitate the ability of any member of the public to comment on federal government regulations proposed by executive agencies. These changes are in furtherance of the mandates contained in presidential executive orders .
Executive Order 12866, “Regulatory Planning and Review,” issued by President Clinton on September 30, 1993, instructs “…each agency should afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on any proposed regulation, which in most cases should include a comment period of not less than 60 days.”
Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review , issued on January 18, 2011 by President Obama, directs agencies “To promote that open exchange, each agency, consistent with Executive Order 12866 and other applicable legal requirements, shall endeavor to provide the public with an opportunity to participate in the regulatory process. To the extent feasible and permitted by law, each agency shall afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment through the Internet on any proposed regulation, with a comment period that should generally be at least 60 days ”
To further these requirements the new site attempts to :
• Enhance the ability of the public to submit and review comments on all supporting scientific and technical documents of the rulemaking docket
• Increase public participation in the regulatory process with easier navigation, improved search and social media links to share regulatory information with others
It includes features to help users understand the regulatory process, under the “Learn Tab”. Easy access to searching by keyword and finding regulations with comments due soon and newly posted regulations are provided under the “Search Tab” . This tab also has Improved layout of search results, filters and a document spotlight. The New “‘Browse Tab”, features regulations grouped in 10 industry-related Categories and also provides for Browsing by hundreds of topics.
Integrated social media tools like “Regulations.gov Facebook” and a revitalized Twitter page will help educate users and allow the public to offer input on Regulations.gov features.
February 23rd, 2012 by Jamie Sommer
The Government Relations Committee is working on creating a “Finding the Law” guide for non-law librarians and non-lawyers. We have an outline for the guide and are currently seeking authors who would like to contribute a chapter. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Jamie Sommer or Tom Gaylord.