Not only is poor Alabama the butt of ridicule from its neighbors in the Deep South, but it also received a failing grade in the Sunlight Foundation’s annual ranking of how state legislatures communicate online.
According to the nonprofit group, five states fail at letting citizens see what their legislators are doing. The other flunking states are Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, according to the Open Legislative Data Report Card.
Rhode Island was changed from an F to a D grade on March 12 because it updates legislative information in real time, instead of weekly, as the Sunlight Foundation had first been told. That detail boosted the state’s score.
A state with a score of minus 1 or lower received an F. The criteria are completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards, and permanence, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Offering information only in scanned PDF images, for example, earns the lowest possible score. Offering information only in Microsoft Word lowers the score because people must buy an expensive program to work with the data.
Past legislation must be archived and available for people to track issues over time. In addition, URLs should be stable.
Nine states won A’s by scoring at least 4 points in the analysis. They are Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
Kansas goes above and beyond, according to the report card, because it bothers to make its documents available in open format, so that people can use a free word processor to work with the information.
Georgia scored high for posting everything in machine-readable formats. The grade-A states keep records of legislation and votes for at least one decade, so citizens can follow the history of an issue.
The nonpartisan organization releases its annual report card on states in honor of Sunshine Week, March 10–17, dedicated to freedom of information resources. The report card is a byproduct of the group’s Open States website, which allows people to find their legislators, review their votes, track the progress of legislation, and see what legislation is on the way.
In the course of compiling information for Open States, “our Open States team and volunteers spent a lot of time looking at state legislative websites and struggling with the often inadequate information made available.
Impossibly difficult to navigate sites, information going missing and gnarly PDFs of tabular data have become daily occurrences for those of us working on Open States,” according to the Sunlight Foundation website.
The most common question people ask is, “How does my state measure up?” And thus the report card was born. The group publishes the information in an effort to help states improve.
According to the foundation’s website, “We know first-hand from our ongoing dialogue with state legislatures and open government technologists that identifying these commonplace problems can go a long way toward addressing them. In that spirit, and in the spirit of Sunshine Week, we offer this report card and recommendations today.”
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