Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Burbank) announced a groundbreaking opportunity to allow individual citizens to draft a piece of legislation directly via an online Wiki. Citizens can visit the “Wiki bill’s” website, and by using an interface similar to Wikipedia’s, they can propose, draft, and edit a bill, which Gatto has committed to introducing, after a consensus emerges. This is the first purely crowdsourced piece of legislation in the United States.
Assemblyman Gatto has advocated for using technology as a tool for citizen engagement. “This is a great way for people to have a voice in their government,” said Gatto. “Too often, special-interest groups draft legislation. In contrast, ‘crowdsourcing’ a bill on the Wiki platform will allow for a fully transparent brainstorming, drafting, and editing process that will incorporate ideas from a large group of people. The collective wisdom of the public will choose the final product.”
The effort is designed to perfect other citizen-participation mechanisms that are flawed. For example, the Petitions.WhiteHouse.Gov site allows citizens to propose broad concepts, but has no teeth, in that the public cannot directly draft legislative text, and there is no commitment by the government to act. On the other side of the spectrum, many reformers (including Assemblyman Gatto) believe that California’s Ballot Initiative process is too strong, because inflexible initiatives can tie the hands of elected officials in perpetuity. In contrast, Gatto’s Wiki process takes advantage of the ubiquity of the Internet to allow vast numbers of people to participate in their government from the comfort of their homes, and allows other members of the public to see exactly how the process unfolds. Thus, it is a way to effect real change, but the ideas will also get fully vetted through the normal legislative committee process after Gatto introduces the bill.
To narrow down the submissions in this first trial of the process, Gatto is asking bill drafters to focus their proposals on changes to the California probate code. This subject matter was selected because it is one where large numbers of specialists exist with an interest in participating (lawyers, CPAs, etc.), but also, since almost everyone has had some experience in handling the death of a loved one, large numbers of the public are also likely to have an opinion on how California’s relevant laws could be improved.
Those interested in participating should visit www.MikeGatto.wikispaces.com. Once there, users can see what other people have proposed, propose bill text themselves, edit what others have proposed, and view the history of the entire process — just like a Wikipedia entry. Assemblyman Gatto will introduce whatever consensus emerges by the State Legislature’s bill-introduction deadline, which is in early February 2014.