Friday, September 19, 2014

Grits' recommendations for improving legislative websites

I mentioned that your correspondent testified the other day to the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee on electronic privacy issues. At the same hearing,  the committee took testimony from staff only on another interim charge, "Study the online legislative resources available to the public from Texas Senate Committee websites and compare resources to those provided by other state legislative committees in Texas and other states. Determine how Texas Senate websites can be improved to provide a more interactive and transparent government."

Texas' legislative websites are better than most. But as the committee discussed the topic, a few recommendations came to mind that weren't mentioned in the invited testimony. Here are Grits' two cents, as somebody who uses legislative websites quite a lot:

Place the contents of the committees' backup notebooks online. Before every committee hearing, members are typically given a paper packet of material by committee staff that includes written testimony, background information, potential amendment language, and other materials related to the bills they're hearing. But audience members or people viewing online can't see what they're looking at. In nearly all cases, staff receive this information electronically and could post it online or easily scan it into a pdf form. Invariably these are open records that could be obtained with a request, but there's value in being systematically, preemptively transparent on every bill. Doing so would give people a lot more information about public policy debates and more confidence in their representatives' decisions. 

Make meeting minutes (slightly) more detailed, listing not just bills but speakers along with the time each started so it's easier to find their testimony on video. Meetings can often last for hours during session, covering many bills, and it'd be incredibly useful to have the meetings better indexed so people who couldn't attend can easily find the parts they're interested in.

Do not delete old data, video, etc., just because you add new content. Some agencies do this, removing old information when new reports come in or arbitrarily removing old information from their sites beyond a certain date. Storage is cheap and an historical record is not just valuable for government but imperative.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Steve would have been a great person to offer the committee suggestions. He still could, just like I did here; their report likely won't come out till just before session.

Anonymous said...

It would be great to expand the notion to local county and city government bodies as well.