Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part IV

Behind the scenes of the open-source bills: smoke-filled rooms, naive optimism and on and off the record.

In this article, we look at the process of getting legislation passed at the state level of government. Against that backdrop, we explore how our efforts fared in supporting this year's open-source bills. Finally, we look at what proponents of Linux need to do to succeed in our objective of having governments adopt open-source standards.

The Political Algorithm

The state legislative process appears consistent throughout the United States. A citizen can petition a member of the house and/or senate to introduce a bill if the issue addressed has merit. The First Amendment to the US Constitution established one's right to petition Congress. The Supreme Court expanded the right beyond the original wording.

In the electronic age, elected officials view the transmission of faxes or e-mail as petitioning. If different constituents send a letter of identical content, the receiving official views that as a petition. That occurrence may compel the member to assess/address the issue.

Other ways of initiating legislation exist. In the circumstances of open-source legislation, sponsors' constituents began by presenting a business case. For example, I presented an argument based on cost savings. My senator (Senator Carona of Texas) liked the idea and moved forward. According to Carona's senator's aide, I presented more research than was needed. Most lobbyists or special interests achieve results with far less information. Fortunately, Senator Carona knew about Linux and open-source software as a businessperson.

If you want to initiate legislation in your own state, keep in mind that your presentation helps in formulating their ideas. Present a compelling case. Let legislators take your idea and develop it further. They have to own the idea before they can successfully share it with other members.

Once the legislator develops the idea, he or she drafts the bill and files it with the secretary of state or equivalent functionary. Once filed, an official of the house or senate reads it to the assembled body for the first time. At this point, the official enters the reading into the official record and refers it to a committee. In the case of SB 1579, a bill to make the state of Texas consider OSS, the State Affairs Committee of the Senate received the bill. It remained dormant on the committee's agenda until the chairman announced a public hearing.

The Battle Begins

I didn't know it at the time, but the supposedly dormant bill drew immediate opposition from lobbyists. Other legislation may encounter opposition from a number of sources, such as other constituents, associations and special interest groups. SB 1579 became targeted by Microsoft. Members of the committee received visits from lobbyists and documents aimed at discrediting open-source software.

During the same period, Chip Rosenthal of EFF-Austin put SB 1579 on the group's agenda and their foundation endorsed it. For the next two months, Chip became the equivalent of an unpaid lobbyist. In most causes, he did the legwork of a typical lobbyist and a community supporter.

I also discovered that the senator had to make a number of requests before the committee would schedule a public hearing for the bill. Scheduling a hearing can be difficult. Being an influential and well-liked representative such as Senator Carona helps this process.

Many factors may have contributed to the committee's busy agenda. Many of us believe lobbyists got to at least the chairman of that committee; he was not present for the hearing. Fortunately, a hearing took place and no one present killed the bill.

Our To-Do

At this point, proponents of a bill can begin the process of support. On its web site, the state publishes the names and contact information for the members of each committee. Receiving e-mails, faxes and letters from the public helps committee members recognize the bill's support in the community. Such support can outweigh the influence of lobbyists, as constituents are the ones who elect legislators.

We do not know how much support Oregon's similar open-source bill received at this particular stage. We do know that SB 1579's committee received little, if any community support. EFF-Austin (the Posse) did ask members of the Texas Open Source community to help. A copy of one of the appeals exists on the NTLUG archives. Considering the effort put forth by the Posse, one has to wonder what else we need to do to mobilize the Open Source community in these matters. Here's an excerpt:

SB 1579 is proposed Texas state legislation that will require state agencies to consider “open source software” when purchasing computer software. The bill has been introduced in the Senate, referred to committee, and is awaiting a schedule date for a hearing.

Action Needed:

  • Fax or write members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs to express your support of the bill. For contact info, see .

  • Join our SB 1579 mailing list (see below).

EFF-Austin has announced its endorsement of SB 1579. EFF-Austin supports the use of open source technology, and believes this bill will help further its use by Texas state agencies. By expanding its use of open source, the state will be able to take advantage of the most advanced, new technologies while significantly reducing its information technology costs.

Texas's bill received a public hearing and remained in committee. One has to give credit to the senator sponsoring the bill and the skill of EFF-Austin in staging support at the hearing.

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Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part IV

Anonymous's picture

I'm surprised that Tom Adelstein didn't know about, or perhaps didn't care to mention, the attempts by CompTIA to use a "communications firm" called Democracy Data & Communications (DDC) in Washington, DC to encourage CompTIA members in Texas via email to defeat Texas SB 1579.

I have included a copy of the email that I received dated 6-May-2003.

----begin paste ----

Dear CompTIA Member,

The Texas Legislature could substantially hurt software developers and resellers in the state if they pass SB 1579 - a bill mandating preference for Open Source Software over proprietary software in state software procurement decisions. The issue is not which software is better - the free market will determine this - the issue is that the Texas state government shouldn't mandate any type of preferences.

We need your help to defeat this bill! Please use this link today to learn more about this critical issue and write your state senator: (link removed)

Thanks for your attention to this important and timely matter,

Bob Kramer

---- end paste ----

I had to solicit a detailed email reply from Robert Kramer, Vice President of Public Policy of CompTIA, to fully explain this position. Mr. Kramer's reply, while informative on the surface, seemed full of "buck shot", if you catch my drift.

I took the time to read Texas SB 1579 online. I saw nothing in the proposed legislation that could be a threat. I think CompTIA was doing nothing more than spreading FUD.

My place in the business....

I make money serving clients that use Microsoft and Linux products and I am proud of that. I have taken the time to learn Microsoft products and RedHat Linux because my role in the US "free market economy" requires that I remain flexible in order to reach and support the broadest range of clients; it's called "diversification". I think CompTIA should learn the true meaning of the word "flexible" and the phrase "vendor neutral".

In closing.....

If CompTIA is supposed to be a "vendor neutral" organization, what problem could they have with a state agency wanting to investigate OSS solutions, especially when Texas SB 1579 does little more than codify a directive from Texas state goverment's own IT organization? From where I sit, CompTIA seems more concerned with "greed" and "proprietary software" than they are with "vendor neutral".

Furthermore, if CompTIA was truly a "professional organization", why should they have to resort to using a "communications firm"? Speaking from personal experience, truly professional "professional" organizations like IEEE and ACM do not use external 3rd parties for such work. They have the necessary resources within their own organizations to facilitate communications with their members.

As for DDC....

Their email blast was sent from mailing software hosted on a dynamically addressed PC using "manipulated headers" rather than a real mail server traceable to a real MX entry in a real and public DNS server. Gee, I wonder how many people didn't get that message due to inbound filters on ISP SMTP servers?? Can you say, "Just about anyone that uses AOL, Earthlink, or, RoadRunner as their email provider" and possibly other ISP services too.

Finally....

I told my Texas state senator to fully support SB 1579 because I felt it supported "freedom to choose" for Texas state agencies. Some background research told me that my Texas state senator sits on the Committee that held the hearings for Texas SB 1579. Some days after I sent my senator my note, in return I got a nice "Thank You" letter for my efforts. Now that's the true power of democracy.

Re: Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part IV

Anonymous's picture

I just finished reading Part IV of linux access in state and local government.I live in the great state of Connecticut and I read the local news paper about the millions of dollars it will spend to "up grade" the states computing system. I have been in contact with my state senator about the high reliability, low cost and all the free up grades of the Linux OS. I just wanted to thank Tom Adlestine for writing these articles and you guys at linux journal for putting them on your web site, is it possible for you guys to pass on a big "thank you" to Tom? And yes I do subscribe to LJ. thanks again Bob Quinn . e-mail:madeinusa@mybluelight.com

Re: www.linuxcad.com

Anonymous's picture

Please knock off this gratuitous commercial posting that does nothing more than consume screen real estate.

Honestly, Linux Journal would gladly advertise this product if you paid them appropriately, but to gobble up their server space that is reserved for USER COMMENTS with your socialist version of advertising is truly pathetic.

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