05/31/2012 by Caroline Vance

Sen. Leland Yee: Government data must be accessible, not just present


Photo courtesy of Sen. Yee's website

State Senator Leland Yee has been making a name for himself lately in the open government and transparency arena.

Most recently, he authored SB 1002, which was just unanimously passed by the Senate. The bill would require both state and local agencies to make public documents, when requested, electronically available in a searchable format. 

To be clear, it doesn't lend more weight to the requests themselves, it just requires that data be available in an easily accessible format. 

For those who remember the two report cards issued on California's degree of data transparency during transparency-themed Sunshine Week earlier this year, the "D" score it received wasn't because the data was absent, but because it wasn't easily found. This bill aims to remedy that criticism.

A letter from the Secretary of State Debra Bowen declares that it would cost her own sizable agency relatively nothing to implement.

However, opposition does exist from the League of Cities and some law enforcement agencies over the cost of implementation elsewhere.

Senator Yee's prior work on transparency issues in state government, especially pertaining to higher education (UC/CSU salary/donation information) and the CPUC, has already increased the usefulness of data that both state and local agencies are already responsible for providing to the public.

SB 1002 would only further this agenda.

SF Tech Dems, brought the issue to Senator Yee because of his past work regarding transparency in government and open records. SF Tech Dems originated in 2010 and mobilized monthly meet-ups for the tech community to civically engage around the 2011 Mayoral race in San Francisco. 

After Mayor Ed Lee won the race and established a Chief Innovation Officer for the city, they moved on to state level data access and transparency.

President of SF Tech Dems David Cruise said that SB 1002 also has the support of the California Newspaper Publishers Association as well as members of the disability community especially the hearing impaired for whom reliable computer readable data is essential because of text-to-speech software. 

AB 1002 now will make its way through the Assembly with the ultimate goal of reaching Governor Brown’s desk. However, the Governor did shut down the state’s own transparency website last in November of 2011 due to funding issues. So, his public support of such initiatives is tenuous at best. 

Despite current state and local budgetary concerns, open access to government data is in the pipeline on the federal level as well and if California doesn't follow Sen. Yee's lead and step its game up soon, the state known for spearheading innovation will instead be playing catch-up in an area of great civic importance.

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