Low-Cost Tech for the Legislature

Dear 2007 Minnesota Legislature:


In January, you held the 2007 legislative conference “One Minnesota. Our state. Our future.” This was an effort by legislative leadership to socialize before the partisan Sturm und Drang prevents further civil discussion. In the hopes that open government—and not open taxpayer wallets—can become our guiding principle, the undersigned offers these suggestions:

e-Transportation—Around election time, we found ourselves discussing E-85 and ethanol as though they are election elixir. But the problem with ethanol as an alternative fuel is that only 385 gas stations exist where you can buy the stuff. The location of stations that provide other alternative fuels, including diesel, are almost as obscure. There should be one Web site that provides daily updates on fuel prices coupled with a locator map, so that any person can immediately find what they want and where it is located. That Web address should be printed on the back of every driver’s license issued in the state of Minnesota.

e-Government—At the federal level, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Tom Coborn (R-Oklahoma), Barack Obama (D-Illinois), and Tom Carper (D-Delaware) has introduced legislation to make the budgetary process transparent and put it on line so that the taxpayers can actually see how their money is being spent. This state should do the same. Recently, as I am sure you know, Minnesota’s legislative auditor Jim Nobles issued a scathing report indicating that hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars were given to nonprofits that lack adequate financial oversight. Let’s put the budget—line by line—on line, for all to see.

Wik-e-law—Wikipedia has become enormously popular and, according to some experts, highly accurate. Why not try legislating after the same fashion? One of your house members suggested to me after the aforementioned conference that this would open up legislation to input from lobbyists. I thought that already was the legislative process.

Town Hall Blogs—We have lunch with the governor on the radio. There are other times when our elected employees subject themselves to actual exchanges with ordinary voters. Members of the house and senate frequently send out legislative newsletters and invite reactions. These are all good efforts. Better, however, would be if our elected leaders established blogs, or participated in a statewide town-hall blogging session held once a week. The anonymity of the process and the convenience of access would increase the number of citizens that could have meaningful exchanges with the elected.

e-Disclosure—Legislation passed two years ago requires Level 3 sexual predators to be listed on a state Web site along with their photos. Individuals and organizations can make huge contributions to political campaigns in our state immediately before an election, but not have them disclosed until several months after the election. If the public can be notified of a sexual predator’s release within 48 hours, it shouldn’t take any longer to notify the public about contributions by Bob Perry of Texas, or the undersigned, to political campaigns. The money saved from abolishing that bureaucratic process and its accompanying regulatory costs would more than pay for all of the suggestions contained in this letter.

e-Education—Instead of mandating requirements for high school graduation (remember Profile of Learning?),  insist on the completion of at least one online class to graduate from a high school in this state. Let the school boards determine what class that would be.

These are some of the ways that modern technology can make our society more open and more cost effective. Unfortunately, modern technology will not inherently make your process more civil—you have to do that yourselves.

Technologically Yours,

Vance Opperman

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