New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Government Upgrade: NYC Council Passes Legislation to Put Law Online and Expand City Record’s Site

July 24, 2014
Benjamin Smith
Sarah Anders


Government Upgrade: NYC Council Passes Legislation to Put Law Online and Expand City Record’s Site

New York, NY– The New York City Council today passed legislation to put all New York City laws online through the City's website and expand the City Record Online.
Int. 149, “The Law Online,” Prime Sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander and also sponsored by Council Members Ben Kallos and James Vacca, will ensure all New York City law—charter and administrative code—gets put online in a searchable and user-friendly format.
The easiest to use and most up-to-date versions of public law have historically been published on inaccessible, for-fee sites. The Laws of New York, including the City’s Charter and Administrative Code, are published by the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission (LBDC).  Three versions of the law are printed and sold by McKinney’s, Gould’s, and the New York Consolidated Law Service (CLS) that are certified by the Assembly Speaker and Senate Temporary President.  The print publications are then sold to Westlaw, LexisNexis and other online legal information vendors that sell access to their services.  While the courts have held that the law itself cannot be copyright, the terms of use for online legal information vendors forbid the use or reproduction of their texts.
The bill affects:

  • New Yorkers who don't know their rights or changes to the rules that apply to them; and
  • Lawmakers and scholars responsible for studying and shaping the law— for example, the New York City Council currently pays for Westlaw subscriptions for attorneys and staff to access the very City laws it is responsible for making.

The New York City Council also passed Int. 363, “City Record Online,” introduced by Council Member Kallos with Council Member Jimmy Vacca, improving the existing City Record On-Line website by mandating that all items currently in the paper copy of the City Record published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) be included in the web version—with an open application program interface (API) to empower developers to create their own apps to track the city’s contract bids and awards. 
The bill affects:

  • Companies looking for information on NYC bids and awards;
  • Public watchdogs and journalists seeking to easily track awards; and
  • Citizens who have a right to full, complete and usable information. 

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.  But how can New Yorkers know the laws if they can’t find them online?  This law will make sure that all New York City laws are easily accessible and searchable online.  I am glad to join Council Members Kallos and Vacca in continuing to move the City forward in using technology to make essential government information easily and meaningfully available to New Yorkers,” said Council Member Brad Lander.
"Transparent government means laws and notices that are online where New Yorkers expect to find them,” said Council Member Kallos, a civic technologist who has been fighting to put laws online since he first FOILed for all Assembly records and posted them online in 2009. “Millennia ago, Hammurabi put the law on stone tablets so that the people could see the laws that governed them. In the 21st Century, that means putting them online, and Council Member Lander's Open Law legislation does exactly that. Additionally, with the passage of ‘City Record Online,’ government information currently printed daily in the City Record with important information like meetings, procurement, and city planning will now be online, complete and up to date, to inform citizens and make our government more accessible."
Council Member Constantinides said, "All city laws and records must be accessible to everyone, including City of New York staff, without subscription fees.  Free information facilitates community engagement and involvement in our government on a grass-roots level.  I thank Council Member Ben Kallos for his leadership on this important issue."
“New Yorkers rely on City government to be as accessible and transparent as possible.  Putting the City Record and local laws online for all to see will enable New Yorkers to find out what their legislators do all day, help firms compete for City business and foster competition to ensure that taxpayers get the best goods and services at the best prices.  I am proud to help open up government to let people look inside and get involved,” said Council Member Rory Lancman.
"All cities and states, from coast to coast, should have their laws posted online for the public to see and search. As part of the Free Law Founders group fighting for more transparent, efficient government, I am pleased to see New York City making such strides in open public information. Here in San Francisco, we are working on many of similar open government and open law measures to bring the law to the people, where it belongs,” said San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell.
"For those of us who value open government, seeing New York City open up its laws is an encouraging step forward," said David Zvenyach, general counsel to the D.C. Council. "In our nation's capital, we have embraced the challenge of making laws easily available for free to the public. That is because open law is one of the core principles of our democracy, and we look forward to spreading it across the nation."
"We commend New York City’s continued efforts to get the city record online and to take this next step to structure additional information in the City Record in machine-readable open formats. We also commend the New York City Council on their recent rules reform encouraging structured legislative data and an open API and are happy to see this next step to open the New York City legal code,” said Rebecca Williams, Policy Analyst for the Sunlight Foundation.

"The Law Online is a big win for transparent, accountable and modern government in New York City, and it is model legislation that should be adopted by every city and state in America," said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation and member of the Free Law Founders coalition to transform laws and legal codes for the Internet Age. "The law should be the easiest thing for a citizen to discover and access online, not the hardest. We're excited to help NYC upgrade its laws to comply with this pathbreaking legislation, and applaud the Council for taking action on this central issue for efficient, effective democratic governance."



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