Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Check out the post and leave your comments here: http://21stcenturytaxation.blogspot.com/2011/06/tax-law-access-in-21st-century-guest.html
Monday, June 27, 2011
If you squint, you might be able to find a couple of intersections, but not many. I think that this is a problem that can be solved largely by providing a clean, obvious, technical solution for lawmakers. To borrow from the Godfather: offer legislators a solution they can't refuse (more below).
But this question asks about the non-technical* barriers, and these are largely inertial. The legal community is unaware of the powerful text-based tools that could make legal work more accessible to the public and more efficient. Meanwhile, there is no "version control" lobby in Congress. So although adding version control would make a tremendous difference to the efficiency of the legal process, few people understand the value that it would bring. I've written about the potential benefits in a couple of specific cases: and
Much of the current system for drafting, publishing and updating U.S. laws is more than two hundred years old, depending on how you count. It is internally consistent (mostly) and is actually quite sensible for organizing legislation into printed books.**
In the case of U.S. Federal legislation, the significant burden of writing, compiling and publishing U.S. laws is divided among three different institutions: the Office of Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House is in charge of formatting and printing legislative drafts and proposed legislation; the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House maintains and updates the U.S. Code on a 6 year schedule***; and the Government Printing Office is in charge of printing the official version of the U.S. Code. When these roles were originally established, they provided the human resources and Quality Assurance to maintain an organized body of law. The challenge is to move from this system to one that is suited for an electronic age.
Each of the three institutions works with legislation in a different primary format. Where metadata has been added, e.g. to create an XML or HTML version, the formats are not consistent with each other. This is a technical barrier that will require a non-technical solution (choosing one format and responsible institution over the other). It's a question of awareness and political will.
This year has seen some progress on both counts. Just a couple of months ago, Speaker of the House John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor wrote a letter to the Clerk of the House, calling for e-formats for legislation.**** The Sunlight Foundation has been doing great work in pushing for transparency in government, including more consistency in e-formats for legislation.
This is where I think a technical solution (and technical people) can make a difference. We can develop a solution that "just works": showing a redlined version of laws for any bill, accurately showing changes in the U.S. Code as soon as an amendment is enacted, and browsing of legislative history like the MacOS Time Machine. A non-partisan solution that could save money and increase transparency, all at the push of a button. I still wouldn't underestimate the power of inertia, but having an elegant and simple technical solution close at hand will make it much more likely that legislators will make the change.
*By "technical" I assume the question refers to the algorithm that would actually be used to implement version control, and "non-technical", I assume, means the political or historical resistance to change.
**Legislators, and the legal community as a whole, has yet to make the transition from print-centered formatting to electronic. Legal documents--even if originated and consumed electronically--are still formatted as if destined primarily for print.
***The U.S. Code is a compilation of U.S. Federal laws into 50 Titles, divided by subject area. http://www.house.gov/hous
****I highlight this letter, and some of the technical challenges to converting legislation into a version-control friendly formats, on my blog:http://blog.tabulaw.com/2
Thursday, June 23, 2011
[UPDATE: I have shut down the live CA Laws demo website; legix.info provides the internal hyperlinks that I had built into my site, and is kept up-to-date. The Android app is also not working now.] Download the new California Laws app here for free, test it out and let me know what you think. To install, you need to download directly to your Android device and open from the System tray.
A few downsides which can be cured in future versions:
- Tables of contents require scrolling across the screen
- Appgeyser puts an ad at the bottom of the application for their service
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I also implemented an idea by Jason Wilson, and seconded (or at least retweeted) by Robert Richards, to add headings to California law sections, to help provide context. Wilson, of Jones McClure, a legal publisher, has given a lot of thought to legal technology and has many interesting ideas on how to make legal technology better. His suggestion on the California Laws site is just the kind of exchange I was hoping to generate. If you have ideas or suggestions to improve navigation of California's laws (or the Internal Revenue Code), let me know on twitter (@arihersh or @tabulaw) or in comments below.
In future posts I will flesh out details of how this could work, in the context of California law and in open sourcing the Internal Revenue Code.
Friday, June 17, 2011
- Introduce meaningful metadata into the text.
- Parse or draft new tax-related bills in so that they can be:
- instantly compared to existing laws and, when passed,
- used to immediately update a public, online version of the new law.
- Create an platform that experts and professionals can use to research, debate and explain the law.
*The LRC version is up-to-date through January 2011.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
|1.||Write in Plain English||Mistweet constituents|
|2.||Make Laws Web-Friendly||Cut Funding for Transparency|
|3.||Make Court Opinions Accessible||Seek Love on Craigslist|
|4.||Invest in Science and Tech Education||Add Facebook and Google to DHS|
|5.||Keep Your Shirt On||See Link in Previous Column|
Monday, June 6, 2011
I've made some improvements to calaw.tabulaw.com, which has all of California's legal codes with internal links for easy navigation of the laws. It now also has a fast search engine, powered by Sphinx.
Know anyone who works with California state law? Pass this on to them. Anyone in the legislature? They might want to replace the aging leginfo.ca.gov...
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I found more than a thousand errors in the course of parsing the online version of California's legal codes. At first, I thought there might be something wrong with my parsing algorithms -- I had, indeed, gone through a number of rounds of bug-fixing. These repeated sections were carried over to the site I've published (calaw.tabulaw.com). Having parsed the sections, it would take just a few minutes to clean up the duplicates, but just to make sure I looked back at the California legislature's website.
When I looked at the original data on the California legislature's website, I saw the sections repeated verbatim. I've collected the 1,368 repeated sections (about 2%), and most look like errors in California's original conversion from print to electronic document.
Want to see for yourself? Check out these sample sections:
Ý1084.] Section Ten Hundred and Eighty-four. The writ of mandamusmay be denominated a writ of mandate.