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Mass. Legislature Website Flunked by Sunlight Foundation

See why the state Legislature's website received an 'F' for transparency and tell us—do you agree? How transparent is your city or town government's website?

This week is Sunshine Week, when journalists and nonprofits cast a spotlight on government transparency, but there are dark clouds over the Massachusetts Legislature's website according to one organization.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunshine Foundation gave the state Legislature's website an 'F,' one of five states to receive a failing grade on a report card grading each state legislature website's transparency.

Websites were scored in six categories. The categories, along with the score ranges for each, Massachusetts' scores and explanations were:

  • Completeness (Score range: 0 or -1. Mass: -1): "Roll call votes not published on site in meaningful way."
  • Ease of access (Score range: -2 to 1. Mass: -2): "Site is frequently broken with no notice to users; bill information impossible to access without Javascript."
  • Machine Readibility (Score range: -2 to 2. Mass: -2): This category refers to the ability to collect data faster and more reliably when data was provided in formats such as XML, CSV or bulk downloads, the Sunshine Foundation said, as opposed to scanned documents or PDF images. For Massachusetts, "Vote data isn't available; locked up in non-machine readable PDF."
  • Permanence (Score range: -2 to 2. Mass: -1): "A dearth of historical information, all information prior to 2009 removed."
  • Standards (Score range: -1 to 1. Mass: 0): which means "state provided bills in PDF and/or HTML format and nothing better (plain text, ODT, etc.)" according to the Sunshine Foundation's methodology.
  • Timeliness (Score range: -1 to 1. Mass: 1): The Mass. Legislature website's lone above-average score, which means "multiple updates throughout the day, real time or as close to it as systems will allow."

The lead investigator on the Sunshine Foundation's Open State project, James Turk, told WGBH that Massachusetts' results were presented to the state and the Foundation "was told that not much was going to change."

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) told WGBH that he thought Massachusetts has improved the bill tracking process, but admitted he was frustrated that all roll call votes were not online and said the site's transparency could be better, adding that the executive branch websites provide better transparency. Turk agreed that Massachusetts' executive branch "has been doing a great job."

Do you agree with the Legislature website's grade? What would you like to see available on the site? And how would you grade your town or city government's website on transparency? Tell us in the comments.

Jon Scarborough March 16, 2013 at 02:02 PM
city hall in Melrose is even less transparent, as the recent muscle job by the Mayor for his raise clearly indicated. One super comment by one of our fearless aldermen was " had we allowed debate to continue it would have become more contentious. Even better was a short time later when it was mentioned that maybe the hard figures released by Human Resources were not that accurate at all
Courtney O'Keefe March 16, 2013 at 09:09 PM
What makes it more sad is how easy it is to input updated information and/or keep it current. A little bit of organization goes a long way. I'm here if you need advice, Deval.
Myron Dittmer March 17, 2013 at 05:29 AM
A lack of transparency should be a surprise in a state controlled by a one party system? Come on folks.....perhaps we should thank Rep Brodeur and Senator Clark for their contributions towards this great effort.
Myron Dittmer March 17, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Here is where I differ with you, Cliff, when it comes to Mayor Dolan.......you can't accomplish what he has in 11 years as a part time Mayor......and the accomplishments of his administration certainly speak for themselves!
Patricia March 18, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Yet, I guess many people complaining about the lack of transparency will continue to vote party line. Really, why is anyone surprised - you get what you vote for.

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