Friday, July 10, 2015

California tries legislatively to upgrade its state-county computer communications

At a time when the federal government is becoming renowned for its data-handling ineptitude, California State Senator Robert M. Hertzberg is working through the legislative process to modestly upgrade the digital infrastructure connecting state and county data and IT operations.

Most prominently, he’s the author of SB 450, which would adopt and adapt the Colorado Model of all-mail voting complemented by dropoff boxes and vote centers that are accessible to voters throughout a county, who would no longer be constrained to vote only in their own residential neighborhood, but who could do so more conveniently near their work, their children’s school, or other locations within their county of residence. 

SB 450 will be heard on Wednesday, July 15th, in the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee.  Ray Sotero, press spokesperson for Senator Hertzberg, told Etopia News this afternoon, “We hope it will pass,” sounding as though he thought it would.  He said that there would be a vote on this bill in the committee on the fifteenth.

This Colorado Model system, which includes same-day registration, requires compatibility and communication between the individual counties voter registrar databases and the recently-launched-into-testing VoteCal statewide registered voter data base.  This “electronic poll book” feature is an example of the more general issue of the need for overall state-county digital compatibility.

Also included in Senator Hertzberg’s current bill portfolio is SB 169, an “open government” bill which would require all local agencies to make their publicly-available data available online in formats accessible to ordinary users.  This bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-0 vote, and is now pending at the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In another effort to upgrade the digital infrastructure, Senator Hertzberg is the author of SB 272, which would require each county to prepare an inventory of its “enterprise” data for a state-wide catalog of such information.  That bill is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday, July 15th.  Mr. Sotero wasn’t as certain that there would be a vote on this bill at that time.

At a time when digital security, public accessibility of government records and operations, new and emerging communications marvels, and efficiency, accountability, and transparency in government are all coming to the fore, it’s somewhat comforting to know that at  least someone in Sacramento is thinking and acting about bringing them all together in a synergistic and democratizing way, even if, for now, these efforts are only working at the edges of the overall problem of bringing California’s governmental digital infrastructure and operations into the 21st century in a profound and perhaps disruptive transformation. 

As the language of SB 272 acknowledges:

“California plays a vitally important role in moving our nation forward in the world of technology.  Just as the state’s thriving tech industry surges ahead in setting new standards for society, so too must California.”

You can read the bill in its entirety here

These are small steps.  The state ought to rationalize and inter-connect all the local and county and state agencies and start applying modern data analysis to uncover actionable insights that will improve government efficiency and improve outcomes for all Californians.

It’s too late in the legislative cycle to the get that done this session, but there’s always next year, which should give the tech titans and others plenty of time to design new and better ways of doing the government’s business using the newest viable technologies.

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