California legislature looks to open up government data

The California State Capitol in Sacramento
The California State Capitol in Sacramento

The California legislature is considering a trio of bills that would crack open the state's vast amounts of public data. The seemingly small changes they require, including dictating the electronic file types and tracking systems that governments use, aim to make data easier for citizens to access and analyze.

The Sunlight Foundation, an nonprofit organization that advocates for government transparency, writes that the bills would help the overall state catch up with some of its largest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Currently, only a sliver of state government data makes it to the state's anemic online portal, data.ca.gov. And though some cities share some data online, many local governments don't have the inclination or resources to follow suit.

The open data bills making the rounds in Sacramento would affect government data at all levels, from the state to the local level. One bill would create a Chief Data Officer for the state.

A recent report by the advocacy group MASSPIRG ranked California dead last in spending transparency, noting that spending by individual agencies or departments isn't collected in one place, rather scattered across several government web pages. This "bureaucratic fragmentation" lead to California ranking last for the second year in a row.

The bills currently in the legislature aim to bolster transparency at all levels of government. They include:

The bills are all in very early stages. None have even come up for committee votes yet.