Hey, let's crowdsource this California law!

Assemblyman Mike Gatto addresses the California Assembly. His new crowdsourced bill asks constituents to contribute to probate legislation via a wiki platform online. 

You know about Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit. Well, there’s an effort in California to use the wiki model to draft legislation -- actual bills that will be introduced to the state legislature.

It’s often said there are two certainties in life, death and taxes. That’s what’s California Assemblyman Mike Gatto was thinking about when he decided to launch an experiment in crowdsourcing legislation.

His chosen topic? The state’s probate code, which regulates wills.

“We’ve seen a lot of very excited feedback on what is, you know, a somewhat boring subject,” he says.

Gatto had heard the probate code needed some updating. And it seemed like a safe topic for his first wiki-bill. Plus, he wanted a boring subject, so special-interest groups would be less likely to co-opt the legislation.

“So we thought this was a wonderfully happy medium, pun intended, for the public to get involved to directly affect a bill,” Gatto says.

Through March 7, anyone can go to the page and add language or start a discussion. But, so far, not too many people have. The wiki-page shows about 12 contributors.

Tim Bonnemann is CEO of Intellitics, a company that helps organizations connect and interact with people through social media. He’s been observing the wiki-bill process and says Gatto’s team was too hands off.

“And they also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy,” he says. “When maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and indentify challenges and develop solutions together.”

And as for keeping special interests out of the mix, Bonnemann says wiki-bills might actually help. 

“In general, the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed,” he says.

Gatto has pledged to introduce whatever bill his wiki-contributors come up with. And he says, maybe next year, they can refine the process and take on more timely issues, like crowd sourcing ideas for dealing with California’s drought.

About the author

Katie Orr is the state government reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, CA.

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