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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

New Website for State Online Legal Information

The Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has created a new website to host information about the status of online legal materials in every state with respect to authentication, official status, preservation, permanent public access, copyright, and universal citation.

  • State Online Legal Information, American Association of Law Libraries.

    AALL and chapter volunteers researched primary legal materials in their states to determine if online legal materials are trustworthy and preserved for permanent public access. This website brings together information from AALL’s National Inventory of Legal Materials and updates AALL’s Preliminary Analysis of AALL’s State Legal Inventories, 2007 State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources and 2009-2010 State Summary Updates. Information is provided about the online Administrative Code, Administrative Register, Statutes, Session Laws, High Court Opinions and Appellate Court Opinions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the following categories*:

    Official Status
    Permanent Public Access
    Universal Citation

    The state pages will be updated as information changes and as we learn more about developments in the states. AALL’s Digital Access to Legal Information Committee (DALIC) will monitor this site and periodically check in with AALL’s state working groups to ensure the accuracy of the information. DALIC also welcomes your additions or corrections.

  • New Website for State Online Legal Information, By Elizabeth Holland, American Association of Law Libraries, Washington Blawg (April 9, 2013).

See also:
State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources (2007).

Minnesota bill to require “permanent record” of web publications of official notices

A bill in the Minnesota legislature would allow government agencies to post official notices on their web sites instead of in newspapers and would require a “permanent record” of publications to be “maintained.” Included would be publication of transportation projects, proceedings, official notices, and summaries of meetings. The bill apparently does not designate who will preserve the information nor does it specify how to preserve the information except for the caveat that the records must be in “a form accessible by the public.”

  • H.F. No. 1286, as introduced – 88th Legislative Session (2013-2014) Posted on Mar 05, 2013.

    Subd. 4. Record retention. A political subdivision that publishes notice on its Web site under this section must ensure that a permanent record of publication is maintained in a form accessible by the public.

We would, of course, like to see a bit more detail of the implementation, perhaps even including requirements for deposit of records in a Trusted Repository, provisions for discovery, access, use, and bulk download, and, ideally, a state-law-compliant deposit into libraries.

One section of the bill does specify that print copies of “documents” published on the web must be made available at all public libraries within the jurisdiction. This is not a bad requirement, but it does seem to us to be short-sighted to require deposit of paper copies and not require deposit of digital copies. Libraries could provide enhanced access and service over what the government could provide and could provide redundant digital preservation.

Subd. 5. Print copies. When a political subdivision publishes exclusively on the Web site, it must also make print copies of all published documents available at the main office of the political subdivision, any other government offices designated by the political subdivision, all public libraries within the jurisdiction, and by mail upon request.

State Government: Digital Preservation and Stewardship Report

A recent report and associated blog posts have a wealth of useful information on digital preservation of state government information:

OMB Watch Report on Transparency and Accountability Websites

On March 19, OMB Watch released a new report that evaluates state and federal websites designed to ensure the accountability of public officials. The report, Upholding the Public’s Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, examines state efforts to release public officials’ integrity information online. Such transparency is crucial to guard against self-dealing and patronage. While states and the federal government have made progress in this area, more work lies ahead.

This report considers four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments: campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets. The report describes the key features needed for effective online disclosure in these areas and highlights leading practices in the states.

HTML for California statutes: Collaborate?

Ari Hershowitz, who runs Tabulaw (software tools for legal work), has converted California’s statutes into structured html, with most internal references now hyperlinked (calaw.tabulaw.com), and has written about the process of doing this on his blog:

As he notes in his blog posts, California at least makes all of its codes available for FTP download (not all states do even this), but there are a lot of “challenges in recovering meaningful structural information (titles, paragraphs).” It takes many steps to add structure to plain text documents, to add back in the metadata that the Section’s original drafters intended, to help a reader understand and navigate the law. He wonders why governments don’t distribute documents with this structural/semantic information included. PDFs may look pretty to the eye, but they are not easily “understood” by software. If governments distributed documents that were “machine actionable” — that is, marked up with tags that denoted the structure of the documents and the meaning of the text, it would be easier to create indexes, link documents with other documents, and so forth.

In an email yesterday, Ari asks if there are others who would like to work with him on making California law more usable:

…tracking of bills or proposed legislation becomes more meaningful if it can be compared to existing legislation. Please get in touch if you are interested in brainstorming or working with me to connect proposed legislation to the existing statutes to create a “legislative diff”, or related improvements. Even better would be thoughts on how we can get California’s legislature to include this metadata in the original drafts of bills.

See www.tabulaw.com if you’d like to get in touch with Ari.