0

State government transparency at a mouse-click

A new website combining legislative hearing videos and transcripts, information on bills, and data on contributions and gifts to lawmakers in an easy-to-use way was rolled out Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and a passel of good-government advocates.

Digital Democracy not only makes all of this information more accessible and searchable and easier to cross-reference, but also interfaces with social media so users can easily share what they find. The site was created by students at Cal Poly’s Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy – of which Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, is founding director – so not only advocates and journalists but all Californians can get a clearer picture of what government does and why.

“Technology has radically changed the way society interacts but government is on the cutting edge of 1973. All of this only increases the gap between people and government,” Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, said in a news release. “Digital Democracy gives citizens the keys to unlock capitol corridors and assess facts in a way that they can be part of the process of governing again.”

Blakeslee said in the release that his institute developed this “to open up government.

“Right now it is a very closed place and the public is largely not able to see what happens, unless they are attending legislative committee hearings in person,” he said. “The California State Legislature does not produce transcripts or minutes from these hearings. There is no list of who was in the room, influencing decisions that were made. With this powerful new platform, Californians will be able to see exactly what people are saying as state laws are being written.”

Newsom serves on the institute’s advisory board member and is author of the 2013 book Citizenville, which explores civic participation in the digital age.

The institute released a poll last week that found overwhelming support for requiring that all state documents, including the budget, be available online with a Google-like search engine. It also found that nearly all Californians want the Legislature’s public hearings to be captured by video and made available to the public on the Internet within 24 hours.

California’s legislature currently does not produce minutes or transcripts of legislative committee hearings. A recent report from the Public Interest Research Group graded every state on government-spending transparency; California received an “F,” coming in dead last.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.