Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) has announced legislation he will introduce next month to bring citizen access to government information into the 21st Century by requiring public documents and data that are electronically available to be user-friendly and searchable by commonly used software.  His website explains:

Often when government agencies post electronic records online or provide electronic copies of documents in response to a public records request, the data provided is simply a scanned graphic image file that is not searchable or able to be sorted, even though the agency has the file in a searchable format.

Under Yee’s bill, such electronic documents would need to be produced in an open source file, word processing document, spreadsheet, or other format in which keywords or names could be easily searched using commonly used software, which is often the format internally used by the public agency.

“Producing a 2,000 page electronic document that cannot be searched or sorted is inadequate and almost useless,” said Yee. “For too long, many government agencies – either by choice or inertia – have been living in the Stone Age when it comes to producing public documents. This bill will not only bring public agencies into the 21st Century, but will ensure greater transparency and accountability.”

Yee, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, decided to introduce the bill after discussions with two San Francisco Bay Area-based technology and open government leaders – David Cruise of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and Gov 2.0 founder Adriel Hampton.

“This bill sets the standard for how government agencies share and distribute data and documents with an emphasis on transparency and non-proprietary technology standards, moving California public record requests and electronically posted data into the future,” said Cruise. “Senator Yee’s bill also marks the beginning of a statewide conversation about how our technology sector can use this data to improve citizen engagement through the development of next generation applications to the benefit of everyone.”

“Senator Yee's effort to bring open government into the digital age has been amazing,” said Hampton. “The Senator has embraced the Gov 2.0 community and work hard to bring together government transparency experts and technologists to help move California forward. Open government is efficient government, and this legislation will help entrepreneurs from across California to more easily access public data to continue the kind of groundbreaking innovation our state is known for around the world.”

The bill announcement comes on the heels of a 24-hour open government “Hackathon” in which developers and other creative professionals will build applications to help government run smarter and more transparent operations.

The conference, which is organized by CityCampSF, begins at Noon on Saturday, December 10, at the Granicus Headquarters, 600 Harrison Street, Suite 120, San Francisco, California.

On Sunday, developers participating in the Hackathon will present their applications to a panel of judges, who will award cash prizes for 1.) Best applications developed using Granicus’ application program interface (API) to make government operate more cost-efficiently and collaboratively with the public; 2.) Best app for assessing the true impacts of clear-cutting in the Sierra Nevadas; 3.) Best app combining San Francisco city data sources for true transparency in local campaign donations, lobbying and contracting.

“We’re hoping to see our APIs unlock new ways for people to access and influence the policy-making process,” said Javier Muniz, Granicus Chief Technology Officer. “Developers can easily access public meeting data including videos, topics, and other government actions to create a user-friendly way to follow government.”