Politicians always pledge to listen to their constituents when drafting new bills. Most of the time, these promises manifest themselves by nodding politely when voters lecture them at town halls and then introducing whatever legislation powerful corporate lobbyists write for them.
But one Golden State lawmaker is taking the idea of accountability to a new extreme. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Burbank) has introduced a Wikipedia-esque website where his constituents can literally work together to write a bill that he will then submit for passage.
Using Gatto’s online legislative wiki, users can add to or remove text from the bill in question. The changes can be made anonymously; however, there is a section where participants can identify themselves by name and add a short bio.
The fist bill under consideration using this system is aimed at reforming California’s inheritance laws, specifically with regard to passing on trust funds from one generation to another.
“This is the first purely crowd-sourced piece of legislation in the United States. We have advocated for using technology as a tool for citizen engagement,” Gatto told the Los Angeles Times, noting that he hoped the ability for anyone with Internet access work on the bill would prevent special interests from taking over. ‟We have the same checks and balances as Wikipedia itself. The whole idea is it’s designed to be self-policing.”
“We’ve encountered people in various settings who want to contribute to the process. They haven’t had as much access because they might not have a lobbyist,” Gatto spokesperson Justin Hager told the Glendale News-Press. ‟If you have ideas, we want to hear them and give people the power to make a difference.”
In a press release, Gatto explained that he selected this area of the law as the test case for his wiki legislation project because it strikes a balance between having a lot of experts like lawyers and CPAs who could contribute, but also could engender a good bit of interest from the general public since virtually everyone has had to deal with some legal issue relating to the death of a family member.
This effort may be the first time an American legislator has attempted to crowdsource the actual drafting of a bill, but it’s not the only attempt to use the Internet to democratize the actual legislative process.
The Obama Administration has a website where members of the public can submit petitions encouraging a change in policy, although this is a far cry from letting anonymous strangers on the Internet actually determine the language of legislation.
The government of Finland has taken what is likely the most forceful step into a crowdsourced legislative future. In 2012, the Nordic nation created the Citizen’s Initiative process where any Finnish citizen can propose a new law and, if 50,000 of their countrymen lend their voices in support, the government is required to at least consider the idea.
The most high-profile piece of Finnish legislation coming through this process is a copyright reform bill initially proposed by Sampsa, a famous street artist often called the ‟Finnish Banksy.”
Photo by Johann Dreo/Flickr