State Government Online

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There was a terrific op ed in the Maryland section of the Washington Post this weekend by two locally based activists who were writing to demand that the Maryland legislature, and the state Board of Public Works get with the transparency picture.

Reforms should start with the General Assembly’s online legislative tracking system. “Up-to-the-minute” access provides nearly instantaneous information on the bills and proceedings on the House and Senate floors, but it is available only to those in state office buildings and the couple hundred lobbyists willing to pay $800 a year to get these updates faster than once a day…

Posting committee votes online is a necessary step forward, and one that will help ensure voters can hold their legislators accountable for the decisions they make. But why wait until after the fact? To influence the process, citizens need to be able to participate more reliably. They should be able to watch committee proceedings, sign up to testify online and check the order in which bills will be heard at least one day in advance.

Yes indeed. These are great suggestions and honestly — and hopefully — could be made by activists across the country. But there’s no reason to stop with demanding real time, online access to legislative or spending bodies. Why aren’t all government agencies required to make all public information online, and why not make it all available online in real time so the information can be used to inform the process? This should be government’s default when it comes to information. Why is government not routinely using all the new web and mobile based technologies as a means for engaging citizens in a two-way dialog with them, or to provide services for them when they are needed? (You’ve got to love the story of Mayor Cory Booker helping out one of his consitutents in response to a Twitter plea.)

Sunlight is very interested in learning about current best practices in the states along these lines. Tell us what you know in the comments below.

One goal for this year: We’d like to see activists in every state demanding the same kind of openness that Heather Mizuer and Ryan O’Donnell have asked from their government officials. 

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