New bill would create easy online access to U.S. laws and statutes

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(Image credit: Sunlight Foundation)

Technology and the Internet have fundamentally changed the way people go about their daily lives. From a cell phone people can hail a cab, order dinner, get their dry cleaning picked up or ask Google, “Who is Dave Brat?”

Eighty-seven percent of adults who use the Internet say it has improved their ability to learn new things. Additionally, 72 percent like having so much information easily accessible. But it may come as a surprise that one important bit of information is missing online.

The United States Statutes at Large is the legal and permanent evidence of all the laws enacted during a session of Congress, in addition to all the concurrent resolutions, proposed and ratified amendments to the Constitution, and proclamations by the president. And yet it is not available online in a user-friendly format.

The Internet is the dominant, ubiquitous communications platform of modern society. Making the Statutes at Large accessible online is not only a good practice in government transparency, but it also works to ensure what John Adams called “a government of laws and not of men.”

That’s why Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and I introduced the Statutes at Large Modernization Act. This simple bill would put the Statutes at Large online in a digital and searchable format. In 2015, citizens rightly expect easy online access to the laws that affect their daily lives.

Transparency is essential in ensuring that the federal government is accountable to the American people. With transparency comes an informed public, an essential foundation for democracy.

The American people should have easy access to the entire legal history of the United States. This simple step will empower citizens with better knowledge of the laws that affect their daily lives and the laws governed earlier generations of Americans.