Linux Access in State and Local Government, Part IV
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 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.
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.
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.
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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