States are leading the way with downloadable legislative databases

I’ve blogged here before (1, 2) about how publishing raw, structured data that can be processed by computers can have unpredictable benefits, and I feel strongly that Congress should provide a raw database download of the status of all legislation. (They have the database already; it’s what powers THOMAS.) I didn’t realize, though, that a number of state legislatures are already leading the way in this regard.

First, for some background, other federal entities have embraced this notion of providing raw databases of information. To name a few, the House of Representatives itself (in so far as it provides voting records as XML), the Census bureau (e.g. the census itself and TIGER/Line), the SEC, and the FEC. Providing the public with unfettered access to the raw data the government has is not a new or controversial idea.

So for legislative data, it seems some state legislatures are ahead of Congress. Thanks to this links page of state legislature websites, I was able to compile this list of what the states are doing (modulo anything I missed):

Five states provide structured legislative databases (i.e. this is excellent): Illinois (XML wow!!), Connecticut (CSV format), Minnesota, Oregon, and Texas (I think–browsing the FTP site doesn’t work with Firefox).  And, California… but they really have semi-structured data.

Eleven states provides direct-to-you updates of bill status (i.e. this is excellent too, but not raw data): By Email: Alaska, Florida (but non-anonymous registration required!!), Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska (but some things are not free!), New Mexico, Wisconsin With RSS: Delaware, Michigan, Texas (including committee meetings!), and Utah

All of the other states, and Congress itself, are in the category of providing neither a raw data download, nor RSS feeds, nor any other customized form of legislative tracking.

Final remarks: All of the states had web interfaces to the status of their local legislation, and I have to say that some, like Florida’s, were actually very impressive. Iowa even has bill version tracking.

(And lastly, Alabama’s Legislative Information System shamefully doesn’t even let users in who aren’t using Microsoft Internet Explorer, so I have no way to know if they have a data download! And Kansas charges for multi-bill tracking.)

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