Imagine All 50 States Legislation in a Common Format

Last week I expressed dissapointment over NCSL’s opposition to the DATA Act (H.R. 2146). Their reasoning is that the burden this might create on the state’s systems will not be affordable. Contrast this with the topic of the international workshop held in Brussels last week – “Identifying benefits deriving from the adoption of XML-based chains for drafting legislation“. The push toward more transparent government need not be unaffordable.

With that in mind, stop for a while and imagine having the text from all 50 states legislation publishing in a common XML format. Seem like an impossibly difficult and expensive undertaking doesn’t it? With all the requirements gathering, getting systems to cooperate, and getting buy-in throughout the country, this could be another super-expensive project that in the end would fail. What would such a project cost? Millions and millions?

Well, remember again Henry Ford’s quote “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”. Would you believe that a system to gather and publish all 50 states has recently been developed, in months rather than years, and on a shoe-string budget? That system is It’s a 50 state bill tracking service. Check it out! We, at Xcential, helped them to do this herculian task by providing a simple and neutral XML and the software to do much of the processing. The press release is here. The format is SLIM, the same format the underlies my prototype. It’s a simple, easy-to-adopt XML format built on our past decade’s experience in legislative systems. Karen Sahuka at BillTrack50 recently gave a presentation on her product at the Non-profit Technology Conference in San Francisco.

SLIM is not as ambitious as Akoma Ntoso. If you take a gander at my site, you will see that it’s very easy to go from SLIM to Akoma Ntoso. In fact, going between any two formats is not all that difficult with modern transformation technology. It’s how we built the publishing system for the State of California as well. My point is that with the right attitude, a little innovation, and the right tools, achieving the modern requirements for accountability and transparency need not be out of reach.

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