Bill Legislation Is More Complicated than Sitting on Capitol Hill
December 14, 2015
When I was in civics class back in the day and learning about how a bill became an official law in the United States, my teacher played Schoolhouse Rock’s famous “I’m Just a Bill” song. While that annoying retro earworm still makes the education rounds, the lyrics need to be updated to record some of the new digital “paperwork” that goes into tracking a bill. Engaging Cities focuses on legislation data in “When Lobbyists Write Legislation, This Data Mining Tool Traces The Paper Trail.”
While the process to make a bill might seem simple according to Schoolhouse Rock, it is actually complicated and is even crazier as technology pushes more bills through the legislation process. In 2014, there were 70,000 state bills introduced across the country and no one has the time to read all of them. Technology can do a much better and faster job.
“ A prototype tool, presented in September at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange 2015 conference, mines the Sunlight Foundation’s database of more than 500,000 bills and 200,000 resolutions for the 50 states from 2007 to 2015. It also compares them to 1,500 pieces of “model legislation” written by a few lobbying groups that made their work available, such as the conservative group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the liberal group the State Innovation Exchange(formerly called ALICE).”
A data-mining tool for government legislation would increase government transparency. The software tracks earmarks in the bills to track how the Congressmen are benefiting their states with these projects. The software analyzed earmarks as far back as 1995 and it showed that there are more than anyone knew. The goal of the project is to scour the data that the US government makes available and help people interpret it, while also encouraging them to be active within the laws of the land.
The article uses the metaphor “need in a haystack” to describe all of the government data. Government transparency is good, but when they overload people with information it makes them overwhelmed.