California Lawmaker Crowdsources Constituents to Create a Bill of Their Own
By Melanie Mason
The state Assembly passed a measure Thursday that is less notable for what it would do -- tweak the probate code -- than for how it was crafted: by the public, in an online "wiki" page.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) announced last winter that he was going to try an experiment: open the bill-writing process to the public, similar to the way Wikipedia entries work.
The result was a bill addressing resources set aside for the care of pets after their owners have died. The measure would allow the court to appoint a guardian to manage those funds.
"It's not a burning issue of the day, I'm the first to admit it," Gatto said. "But I think the process is the burning issue of the day."
He said he "committed to the public I would introduce what they came up with."
"Typically, the public perceives that bills are drafted by special interest groups in a smoke-filled back room," Gatto said. "But this was a bill that was drafted entirely on the Internet with maximum transparency, and anybody could participate as long as they had an Internet connection."
By narrowing the bill's focus to the probate code, the measure was kept deliberately dull, designed to attract legal specialists instead of political ideologues.
Participants were able to make changes to the proposal from December through early March, when the measure was drafted in bill form and began winding its way through the Assembly. Justin Hager, communications director for Gatto, said the wiki page had at least 75 unique visitors, about a dozen of which were active users.
One visitor was Tim Bonnemann, whose San Jose firm Intellitics designs digital civic engagement tools. Bonnemann, who observed the wiki collaboration but did not suggest policy changes, said crowdsourcing can be a "very exciting tool" for lawmakers, but Gatto's first attempt had "room for improvement."
Noting that the assemblyman was "intentionally hands-off" in guiding the proposal, Bonnemann said the process would benefit from "more clear documentation of what input was gathered, how it was interpreted, how it was introduced and how it made its way through the sausage-making process."
Still, Bonnemann said he was "pretty excited to see that someone is actually exploring this as an option for a legislator or politician to engage with his or her constituents."
In the future, Gatto said he wants to venture into topics that can attract more attention.
"A controversial bill would actually benefit the process, because it would draw more attention to the fact that the bill had been proposed by the public," he said.
His current measure, AB 1520, passed 72 to 0. It now heads to the Senate.
Also Thursday, the Assembly gave final clearance to a bill that would grant an extension on workers' compensation claims for families of deceased firefighters and police officers who died from cancer, tuberculosis and certain other diseases.
Under that measure, by Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), families could file claims up to 420 weeks after the date of injury and no more than one year after the date of death.
The bill, AB 1035, passed 72 to 1 and now heads to the governor.
(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times
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