Wisconsin gets a “D” in ranking of legislative websites

Among advocates for open government, it is often said that public officials should not get kudos for doing the minimum. If the law requires a certain degree of openness and the authorities oblige, they might avoid a kick in the shin but won’t likely get a pat on the back.

That may be the operative theory behind the “D” rating awarded the Wisconsin Legislature in a new 50-state ranking of legislative websites produced by the Sunlight Foundation, a national nonprofit group that promotes government transparency.

The searches and rankings of state legislative websites were done by the group’s staff and volunteers, as part of Sunshine Week, a national observance of open government. Possible scores ranged from “-2” to “+2,” with “0” representing the middle ground.

Wisconsin scored a “0” in all six survey categories: Completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, standards and permanence. Usually, this translated as meeting a minimal standard as defined by the group.

For instance, the Wisconsin Legislature’s “0” in completeness meant that its website provides a “full breadth” of access to basic information on bills, legislators, votes and committees. If it hadn’t included roll-call information on individual votes it would have gotten a “-1.”

On ease of access, Wisconsin’s website was deemed average, which meant that it was deemed neither “exceptionally well laid-out” nor “extremely difficult to use.”

And on permanence, the website’s “0” ranking meant that “legislator and committee information lacks a permanent location” but most of this can still be found.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s website archives data on bills, acts and legislative proposals going back to at least 1989-90. This can be found at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/archive.

In all, the Sunlight Foundation awarded eight As, 11 Bs, 20 Cs, six Ds, and six Fs. The states getting As were: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington. The F scores: Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Rhode Island.

The full list can be found at http://openstates.org/reportcard/. The group’s write-up on its results is at http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/03/11/openstates-report-card/.