The Maryland General Assembly’s website is packed with great information. The problem is that it’s difficult for the average person to find it.
During yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, Michael Gaudiello, Director of the Office of Information Systems at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services previewed a working redesign of the site. Here are a few things that caught my eye.
Committee Hearing Audio/Video: For the last two years, the Maryland General Assembly has included live streaming of committee hearings on its website – streaming video in the House, streaming audio in the Senate. It’s a great feature, but sometimes hearings last five or six hours and cover 20-plus bills. Who wants to listen to five hours of testimony on 19 bills you don’t care about just to hear the 15 minutes of testimony on the bill you do care about? Within his demo, Gaudiello showed a redesigned bill page that includes links that will take the user directly to the point of the recording where the bill was heard. I think this will be a very useful feature.
Bill Tracking: For years, power users of the site have used profiles to track legislation. The feature is being relaunched in a much more user friendly way. You will be able to log in with an email address and create lists of the bills you want to track. Whenever you visit the site, you can login and check on your bills. In addition, you can set up email alerts to let you know when the bill status changes (ex. a bill gets voted out of committee). You can also export your lists onto a spreadsheet. This is similar to existing functionality, but light years easier to use.
Other interesting updates include:
- An index of legislation by popular terms – find bills related to terms in the news like “flush tax” rather than “Bay Restoration Fund.”
- Links to the most viewed bills on the home page, which will change daily.
- Improved legislator and committee pages, providing more information and links to bills.
- A contact tool that will allow visitors to enter their address to identify an send an email to all lawmakers in their district.
- An online form for submitting your position on a bill and signing up to testify during a hearing. (This idea is still under development and may not launch with the new site).