DigitalDemocracy.org: an experiment in legislative transparency

Imagine if you could go to a website, type in a term, and find every mention of that term in hearings in the California legislature . . . and not only that, but have the site take you directly to video of the hearing with a rolling transcript and information on legislators and lobbyists. That would be pretty cool, right?

One-week old DigitalDemocracy.org does that:

Try it out! I searched for “vape” to find testimony and argument regarding proposed regulation of e-cigarettes, and turned up testimony from representatives of the Smoke-Free Alternative Trade Association and Mount Sinai School of Medicine . . . plus argument from a bunch of dang politicians.

Speaking of dang politicians, the project was spearhead by partners from opposite sides of the political aisle: Democrat Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and Republican former state Senator Sam Blakeslee.

Don’t get too excited that this will revolutionize your research of legislative history, though. At least, not yet. As of now, the site is only a one-year beta covering only the 2015 legislative year.

Besides, the ability to search legislative history doesn’t seem to be the point. The purpose seems to be to make government more transparent and to give ordinary citizens a window into the legislative process that will allow them to act on issues currently under consideration. (Recent coverage in my local paper includes this article and this column from the paper’s Sacramento correspondent, which give one a feel for the purpose of the project.)

However, if DigitalDemocracy.org carries on past its one-year beta period and maintains its full catalog, I think it will become a valuable tool for legislative history research. It does, after all, also catalog reports, analyses, and drafts of bills (example here) that are available from official sites like Official California Legislative Information or California Legislative Information. The hearing videos and transcripts make those official sites seem awfully dry.