Collaborative Democracy – Tools for the 21st Century

Recently, our Justia friend (and my Law Librarian-Hero) Mary Minow mentioned that she traveled to Sacramento to testify in front of the California State Senate on Senate Bill (“SB”) 445.  The proposed bill seeks to amend the California Public Records Act by updating  privacy protections for public library patrons as it pertains to the use of computers and online resources.

While I’ve been able to spend some more time reading up on the Bill, and I encourage you to all to do the same, I actually wanted to focus this post on citizen (i.e., not lobbyist) participation as it applies to the drafting of state and federal laws.  The reason Mary was up in Sacramento voicing her support for SB 445 is because she won a “There Oughta to be a Bill” contest, sponsored by California State Senator Joe Simitian.  Senator Simitian has sponsored this contest since 2001 and, to date, 16 winning ideas proposed by California residents have been signed into law.

By chance, at the same time I learned about the Senator’s contest, I noticed a post by Matt Baca in the the VoxPopuLII Blog announcing the launch of LexPop, a public policy Wiki which allows participants to collaborate in the creation of legislative bills. The post covers in great detail how LexPop works.  Of note is its first project, the creation of a net neutrality bill.  LexPop has secured the pledge of Massachusetts State Representative Tom Sannicandro to introduce this bill.  Matt also links to Beth Novek’s book on “Wiki Government” re-inforcing that LexPop is part of the bigger movement which aims to create a legitimate 21st century democracy via collaboration and participation.  Other projects and groups that have launched like-minded initiatives include PopVox, which helps citizens communicate with their elected representatives, and OpenCongress (see our recent post for more discussion on the later and OpenGovernment.org).  Matt encourages us ALL to get involved in creating this community of collaborative democracy – click over to the post to read his great examples of what we can get done if we work together.

P.S. If you need some additional incentive to participate, go and read the following editorial from Sunday’s New York Times, “Cutting Out the Middleman,” which notes that in the new Congress, “40 lobbyists have been hired as staff members of Congressional committees and subcommittees, the boiler rooms where legislation is drafted.” The article cites interesting examples of this, such as an executive who lobbied hard last year against health care reform and is now on Speaker Boehner’s staff working to…wait for it…organize the effort to repeal the health care law. (In a side note of irony, the editorial also points out that in many instances the folks who hired these lobbyists were Tea Party candidates, the very people avowed to end business as usual in Washington.)