N.Y. Senate is open for download

The New York State Senate launched a new website this month, designed to allow citizens to find, share and comment on all legislation being considered by the Senate. The robust search engine behind Open Legislation, its comment capabilities, and its open-source framework is part of a broader effort to make government more open, transparent and accessible government, officials said.

“The launch of the Open Legislation site will move the Senate a step closer to the more inclusive and transparent government New Yorkers deserve,” Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said in a statement.

Senator Jose Serrano launched the site in front of students at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics where he echoed his colleagues statements, saying a more open Senate will increase citizen participation and make representatives more accountable. Sen. Serrano also said the new initiative will encouraging young people to get involved.

“This generation of students has an unprecedented amount of access to technology, and it is thrilling that they can now use those skills to keep themselves informed of the legislative process,” he told the students. “As a lawmaker, it is an honor to take the future voters and policymakers of New York State step by step through a resource that will enrich their lives for years to come.”

Open Legislation joins a host of other open government applications being implemented in New York state and city government. The New York City Council has a similar feature on their website, as well as the State Assembly. NYC has also developed an interactive 311 service, and is in the process of opening data sets for a competition called NYC BigApps, where developers can build web and iPhone applications on things like MTA schedules and bicycle rout maps.

Although not as flashy as NYC BigApps, Open Legislature is ahead of its sister body in the Albany and the NYC City Council in that the Senate’s search engine allows users to comment. This will allow citizens to engage in the legislative process in a proactive manner, Serrano said.

Additionally, the data of the legislation will be available in ready-to-use formats, so developers could mold the information in new and interesting ways. Users can view the bill in HTML, XML, CSV and JSON formats. The website is also based entirely on open-source software, so other governments can download Open Legislation’s framework and modify it for their own unique needs.

“We hope that the site will help more New Yorkers to not only keep tabs on what is going on in Albany, but to have a voice in what is going on,” Andrew Hoppin, chief information officer for the Senate, said.

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