Daniel Schuman, Esq., has posted recommendations that the U.S. Congress make draft legislation more open and accessible, and that “freshness ratings” be added to reports of the Congressional Research Service, many of which evaluate legislation.
The recommendations appear in a new post at Daniel’s tumblr, luminous enchiladas: 3 Federal #HackForDC Ideas From a Non-Coder.
Here are excerpts:
[…] It’s important to be able to have plain text versions of bills, especially draft legislation. Why? Clean (non-PDF) versions can be compared against other iterations to see what has changed and marked-up so that you can easily make suggestions for improvements. Unfortunately, pre-introduction legislation is only made available to staff as a PDF, which is hardly useful to anyone. And sometimes even introduced legislation is available first as a PDF and only later as XML.
What would be helpful is a tool that ingests PDFs of draft-legislation and returns plain text. But converting the PDF to text isn’t enough. It also would need to remove the line numbers, the headers (e.g. “F:\M13\ROYCE\ROYCE_005.XML” as well as the page numbers), and the footers (e.g. “F:\M13\ROYCE\ROYCE_005.XML f:\VHLC2261322613.176.xml (542138|23)”. By clearing out this additional stuff, you’re left with the text of the legislation only, which can then be used in many ways. […]
The Congressional Research Service is a congressional think tank, and it issues report on important issues of the day. Over time, CRS will update a report to reflect new facts or changing circumstances. Sometimes these changes are significant, but other times the update could be as minor as the addition of punctuation or removal of a citation. However, there’s no way for the reader to know whether the new report needs to be read closely or if there’s just been a cosmetic change.
CRS reports should have freshness ratings based on a comparison of the current text to the previous iteration. So, if the language is virtually identical except for the addition of a sentence, it would receive a low rating (e.g. 1% fresh), but if the report has been largely rewritten, it would receive a high rating (e.g. 80% fresh). […]
For more details, please see the complete post.