Waldo Jaquith of The State Decoded has published two posts on the PBS / Knight Foundation MediaShift / IdeaLab blog:
In How to Decode State Law Histories, Mr. Jaquith describes a parser that he is developing for The State Decoded, his state-level open legislative data platform, that would render in plain language the complex and arcane histories of amendments, that appear in the notes of many sections of statutory codes. [Click here for background on The State Decoded.] He writes that he is developing:
a parser for the State Decoded for these history sections, so that rather than displaying this cryptic content, instead the material will be provided in plain English. By storing this data atomically, it’ll be possible to generate a listing of all laws that were amended in a given year, all laws amended by a given portion of the Acts of the General Assembly, or find laws similar to a given law based on their shared history of being amended within the same portion of the Acts. I’m optimistic that it’ll be possible to connect many state codes’ history records back to individual pieces of legislation, rather than just the legislature’s changelog, which opens up a potential wealth of information. (This can already be seen on Virginia Decoded for all changes from 2006 onward, such as in the “Amendment Attempts” listing on § 2.2-3705.1.)
In The State Decoded Turns Laws Inside Out, Mr. Jaquith describes two methods by which The State Decoded seeks to improve public access to state laws.
The first is by “reducing laws to their smallest possible units, indexing them via every possible metric.” The second is by “exposing all of those internal structures” through application programming interfaces (APIs). Mr Jaquith describes the possible benefits of releasing legislative data through APIs as follows:
There are people much smarter than I who will grasp the fascinating applications and analyses that can be created with these data. Perhaps they’ll find that legislators in different political parties tend to pass bills that affect distinctly different titles of the code. Or that the SMOG ranking of amendments to the code have gradually been increasing. Maybe that legislation amending a law tends to follow a spike in scholarly citations of that law. Who knows?
Mr. Jaquith adds:
The API for Virginia [Decoded] is in alpha testing now. If you’re interested in putting it to work, send an e-mail saying so to join the alpha test.