by Pam Greenberg
The New York Senate earlier this month launched a new website with the goals of transparency, openness and participation. It includes a blog, YouTube videos, news feeds, and links (with a popup disclaimer) to Facebook and Twitter for the Senate and for individual senators. The site is a leap forward for New York state government online information services and compares favorably with innovations in legislative websites around the country.
One of the more interesting features of the site is its Legislation Markup section, which allows the public to comment on selected bills under consideration. This feature is similar to the Nevada Legislature's Online Opinion Poll, which allows citizens to submit comments about, vote for or against all bills being considered, and view others' comments anonymously.
Another initiative of the New York Senate Site is the use of crowdsourcing tools:
Crowdsourcing tools leverage the "wisdom of crowds." By creating a forum where large numbers of people can submit ideas and vote on them, a crowdsourcing application can gather new ideas from beyond the walls of the Capitol to make the Senate a more effective lawmaking body. Crowdsourcing will be used by the Senate's Policy group to tap into the public to generate ideas and feedback on certain legislation. By doing so, the Senate will encourage citizen participation in the legislative process. The Senate's first crowdsourcing topic is about property taxes.
The New York Senate's property tax site is similar to a Minnesota House of Representatives Property Tax Project, which in 2007 began soliciting feedback from citizens (but keeping comments confidential). Other state legislative sites also have sought citizen input on budget issues.
The New York Senate's goals also include a plain language initiative and plans for open data that will "take government data out of PDFs and other formats that are difficult to analyze with database and spreadsheet software. By putting information into easy to download, easy to manipulate files, the Senate will empower independent people and organizations to do their own research and analysis."
Meanwhile, the Utah Senate is working on a new website incorporating many of the interactive features and social networking tools that have long been present on the majority caucus Senate Site. The "Government 2.0 accessories" on the Utah site include a blog, podcasts, text message updates, YouTube videos, a user-controlled live webcam, and a Twitter account and Facebook page. The Utah Senate also has experimented with an online legislative town meeting and has hosted and live-streamed press conferences and meetings with legislative leadership for local bloggers.