Many of the issues with innovating for legislatures stem from it being a traditional body consisting of procedures, rules, and process that may have been in place for hundreds of years in some cases. This can make the steps of innovating with technology problematic and polarizing.
Robert Haney, President of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries, discusses the effects of technology on the legislative process in this article.
An interview with Chief Clerk of the Texas House, Robert Haney
“Since that election, local politicians have followed national politicians’ lead by using social media as an inexpensive and effective way to campaign. But Facebook has a dark side, allowing users to disguise their true identities to lodge attacks without accountability against opposing candidates and spread misinformation rapidly.”
A case study in social media and local politics, by the Victoria (Texas) Advocate:
I can’t physically get you a seat at the table as policy is formed, but I can do the next best thing. New this session of the Texas Legislature, adding value through the Texas A&M Transportation Institute by applying transparency practices to transportation policy. This effort includes:
- Providing daily updates for a list of transportation bills filed, sorted by category, at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/85r/
- Tweeting a list of the day’s new transportation bills via @StevenPolunsky
- Blogging to provide background, analysis, and behind the scenes insight at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/category/blog/
- Liveblogging legislative hearings at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/liveblog/
- Packaging all or some of the above along with featured research in a newsletter (subscribe at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/)
- Responding to questions posted through the above and other social media channels
- Preparing live seminars for Legislators, staff, and the public on timely issues.
- Maintaining our interim legislative activity tracker at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/txtransportation-legislation/84i/
- Keeping our list of what passed and what didn’t from prior sessions at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/txtransportation-legislation/84biennial-legislation/
- Seeking other opportunities to augment transparency in the legislative process.
I am quoted in this story about a Georgia city’s experiment with social media.
“According to Steven Polunsky at the Scholars Strategy Network at Texas A&M University, social media breaks down barriers between government officials such as Wescott and the public they serve.
“Polunsky said innovations such as Facebook and Twitter allow the public to express opinions and share information readily with officials and vice versa. …
“What if there were an easy way for citizens to share opinions with decision makers at optimal moments, when their views might really count?” Polunsky said. “New forms of social media may offer just such opportunities.”
Very impressive things are happening in Canada on the open government/open data front. More to come on that. Read up or start experimenting at https://github.com/Canada-ca/welcome .
I will be traveling to Canada to talk about legislative transparency at the GovMaker conference.
The mission of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is to serve the people of Texas, and protect the public health and safety, through consistent, fair and timely administration of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. According to the Legislative Budget Board‘s Fiscal Size-up, the purpose of the TABC is “to deter violations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code by inspecting licensed establishments within the alcoholic beverage industry, investigating complaints, regulating the personal importation of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes through the state’s ports-of-entry locations with Mexico and the seaport at Galveston, and enforcing state law.”
In August of 2016, TABC released an app that “allows members of the public to do their part to promote public safety by reporting breaches of the peace and other incidents which occur inside businesses licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.”
The app allows the user to perform a location-based search for permit holders in various categories. Here is a screen-shot of the app as it was initially rolled out in soft public release:
The maker of the app, Neubus, highlighted its features:
- Search for Businesses – Find nearby restaurants and businesses that sell alcohol, including narrowing searches based on permit type, status (active or inactive), or business type (bar, brewery, restaurant, hotel, etc.)
- Interactive Map – See basic information such as business name, address, directions from your location and street-level view of the business.
- Pending Permits – View pending original license/permits in your area.
- Complaints – Report TABC-licensed businesses which sell after hours, to minors, or over serve; also inform the TABC about establishments condoning gambling, drug use, prostitution or human trafficking
- Feedback – Provide feedback about TABC employees and TABC certification schools
- Violation History – Identify what alcohol permit violations have occurred, including sales to minors or other violations.
TABC issues permits for certain sexually-oriented businesses in part to assist in the enforcement of laws against the sale of beer on premises where acts that are lewd, immoral, or offensive to public decency occur. However, the ability to search for the nearest sexually oriented business raised some concern among the public.
TABC quickly responded by rolling the sexually oriented businesses into the Miscellaneous category, but without changing the icon for that category. This oversight muddled things briefly, until that oversight was corrected with the final version.
The final version is now available without charge in the iTunes App Store and on Google Play for Android.