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If you haven't seen the new New York State Senate website, it's absolutely worth checking out, even if you're from out of state.

Designed and operated by some of the best and brightest in new media, the website is a remarkable step forward for open government in a state that has traditionally lacked it, particularly when Republicans ran the State Senate. One now-infamous example is the Republican senators' TV studio on Long Island, funded by taxpayer money and hitherto unknown even to several long-serving Republican senators:

Senator Tom Libous, an 11-term Republican from Binghamton, said even he had not known there was a television studio on Long Island.

"You serious?" he said. "O.K. I don’t have one in Binghamton."

...

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Senator Craig M. Johnson — who had been the lone Long Island Democrat until November’s election — said he had heard "vague rumors" about the existence of the facility. He guffawed when asked if Mr. Johnson had ever been invited by the Republicans to use it.

"No," Mr. Azzopardi said, "I don’t believe they ever gave us the password that shut down the waterfall to enter the cave leading into the studio."

Well, prepare for greater government transparency - and greater two-way communication - than has been seen before in the State of New York.

The site looks great - easily navigable, aesthetically pleasing, generally user-friendly - but that's only the first step.

Each State Senator will have a blog, and there will be an official Senate blog written by Albany Project publisher (and long-time Daily Kos member) Phillip Anderson. The Senators' Twitter feeds (those that have them) and Facebook pages will also be linked, enabling anyone to correspond directly with their local lawmakers.

Not only will legislation be posted online...but the Senate's "Legislative Markup" section enables you to read and comment on proposed legislation. In other words, instead of petitioning, calling and so forth to sway your Senator on a particular issue, you can make your voice heard right on the site.

They have a full list of the Senate's committees and their memberships...coupled with a regularly updated news feed with stories related to committee activities and those of their members, schedules of public hearings, and video from hearings you may have missed.

Looking for government data on legislation and spending - say, where the federal stimulus money is going? They have it. That sounds great, but what if you're too confused to sift through volumes of government data? No problem: the Plain Language Initiative ensures that everything will be available in user-friendly format.

Overall, it's a revolutionary site, leaps and bounds ahead of those of any other state government. There are a lot of impressive people behind it, including (but not limited to) Phillip Anderson, Brian Keeler (NYBri), Noel "noneck" Hidalgo, Micah Sifry, Andrew Rasiej, Advomatic and Senate Chief Technology Officer Andrew Hoppin.

Want reviews? From Rochester Turning:

The new NY Senate website is just about ready to rock, and Phillip Anderson of Albany Project fame gave us the keys to take it for a test drive around the block.  Some very good stuff in there.  Don’t have time for a full, top-down review, but here’s some highlights I found.  In some cases, you can see where bloggers’ pain trying to pry information from the Senate’s cold, dead hands in the past few years, has resulted in some solid enhancements to the site.

From DragonFlyEye:

One of the more interesting facets of the website is the Legislation Markup feature, which allows users to view and comment on all pieces of legislation currently under consideration. It’s like Thomas meets Flickr.com or something. It’s very nice to see that if I wanted to - and I just might - I could send my readers to comment directly on a piece of legislation before the Senate, rather than having to sign some petition that may never get viewed.

From Buffalo Pundit:

This site is unprecedented for New York’s legislature, which is known for being a lot of things - transparent and accessible not being among them. The team of people who have been putting this together are taking suggestions from the public because they want the site to be a model for how governments share information with stakeholders.

It provides individual senators with a better ability to not just announce crap to their constituents, but to genuinely interact with them through social media and blogs.

The website represents a step forward for good government in a state that sorely needs it. I hope that this translates into more fundamental changes to the procedures employed in the Senate itself. All in all, a positive thing for us taxpayers.

Seems most everyone is highly impressed by the site, a big step forward for a legislature that sorely needed to take one.

Also, note this from the Albany Times-Union:

The sites of individual senators are all designed the same, he added.

Apparently, when the Senate was under Republican leadership, senators from the Democratic side were not given the same online technology as Republicans, said Travis Proulx, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

"There wasn't any standard," Proulx said. "It was just a real problem."

Shocking. It's awfully nice to have a legislature run by Democrats.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:08 PM PDT.

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