Grace and Brilliance Under Fire in Albany

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The New York State Senate’s chief information officer Andrew Hoppin and his team have been making tremendous strides in opening up the inner workings of the chamber to the public, and are well on their way to achieving levels of transparency and accountability not before seen by any American legislative body, state or federal.

That in and of itself is worthy of great praise. However, they are fulfilling their mission while pitched partisan warfare is being waged over who controls the chamber. Not knowing who your boss is and whether you’ll have a job tomorrow is undoubtedly distracting, to say the least. But as Craig Newmark, wrote on his blog, “Looks like they’re getting it done, despite all the drama in NY state politics.” Earlier this week, The New York Observer’s Gillian Reagan highlighted the work of Hoppin and his team revamping the Senate’s Web site and services in order to “bring back-door conversations and government data and empower constituents.”

Last month, I blogged about how the NY Senate is building an array of online services that will offer citizens a much clearer window into how the chamber functions and invites their participation, including information such as bill text, budget plans and lawmaker’s expenditures and funding reports. It includes a public database of legislation that’s searchable by bill number, sponsor, committee or keyword. And they’ve added a Plain Language Initiative that translates legal and political jargon into more readable text. The site now includes a weekly calendar, “What’s happening now?” and “Find my senator” functions, info on senators, a listing of committees, data on issues and legislation, photos and videos and a blog.

One aspect I find especially cool is the Markup function that allows the public to comment on legislation that is under consideration, in essence a New York version of Sunlight’s Public Markup.Note that they are using a Creative Commons license. (Sunlight’s senior technology advisors, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, are advising the Senate on their transparency redesign.)

This is really great work under the most challenging of political circumstances.

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