The National Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to announce the publication of its latest research, “Legislating Open Government: The Prevalence of Transparency-Related Language in 2019 State Legislative Bills.” The report is a culmination of a months-long pilot project analyzing all bills introduced in 2019 sessions across the U.S. in conjunction with Quorum, a Washington D.C.-based software company.
More than three-fourths of NFOIC’s state coalition members say that tracking their legislative sessions for bills that impact their state’s open government laws is a critical need — and a challenging task. Since most state legislatures do not prominently identify introduced transparency-related bills, many coalitions must rely on labor-intensive methods to single out and track them. NFOIC sought a technology solution to automate and better identify and track these bills.
Of the 142,057 bills introduced in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in 2019, transparency-related search terms NFOIC tracked returned 19,311 “unique” or individual bills. That translates into about 13.6 percent of all 2019 bills.
Transparency issues arise in all kinds of bills — everything from how public data is collected, organized, managed and disseminated by government, to the balance between personal privacy and the public’s right to know, and how government interacts with the private sector.
Among the pilot project findings:
☑️ Research showed the primary issue areas most prevalent with transparency-related language included Commerce, Law Enforcement, Economics and Public Finance, Education, Government Operations and Health Care.
☑️ While state Democratic legislators sponsored more transparency-related legislation in 2019, state Republican legislators were overall more effective at enacting transparency-related legislation.
☑️ Finding accurate bill language is both an art and a science. In this pilot, we learned broad search terms often bring in too many results and further refinement of search terms is needed. Weeding out extraneous bills is necessary, and the lack of standardization of transparency search terms from state to state creates an additional challenge.
“While legislative tracking is just one component of ensuring an open and accessible government, NFOIC believes this research shows there is an opportunity for comprehensive FOI legislative tracking nationwide that can in turn be used to educate and empower more people at the state and local levels,” said Daniel Bevarly, NFOIC’s executive director.
The pilot project is an extension of NFOIC’s 2020 Vision strategy for improving government transparency at the state and local levels at a time when access to public records and institutions is becoming more challenging for the public.
If you know academics, journalists, government agencies or stakeholder groups who may be interested in online public records portal administration, please share this research with them. We’re here to assist in the effort for improved records administration in cities and states across the U.S and look forward to hearing your feedback: 📭 firstname.lastname@example.org.