Archive for December, 2012

All 2012, 2013 Video Funded!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Ninety-two people have donated $2,654 on Kickstarter to fund liberating the 2012 and 2013 legislative video from the General Assembly. It took a just over three hours to raise the necessary $2,170, and the money just keeps coming in.

The General Assembly records its sessions on video, but they don’t share that video. It’s not on their website. Public broadcasting stations aren’t allowed to broadcast those sessions live. But the legislature will sell that video, for $10/DVD. It costs about $1,200 for a whole session’s video, and then there’s an enormous amount of labor required to get that video off the DVDs and onto the internet.

The order has been placed for the 2012 video from the House Clerk’s office, and when they return from their Christmas break, a check will be written to the Senate Clerk (they want money up front) to get their video for the same period. The process will be repeated for the 2013 video.

This process would be utterly impossible without the support of sponsors. Past years have been funded by the Sunlight Foundation, Public.Resource.Org, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and, in 2011, individual donors funded buying the video, like this year. We should all be very grateful to all of the donors who made this possible: Aaron Bycoffe, Aaron Jorbin, Allen Tan, Amber Reichert, Andrew Filer, Andrew Nacin, Andrew Parr, Anil Dash, Anna Scholl, Anonymous, “aphid”, Brady Forrest, Brett Camper, Brian Rowe, Cameron Colby Thomson, Chad Dotson, Charlie Park, Charlotte Drummond, Chris, Chris Lin, Chris Makarsky, Christina Xu, Christine Sansom, Clarissa Peterson, Craig Fifer, Dan Munz, Daniel X. O’Neil, Derek Willis, Drew Jaynes, Duncan Smith, Eddie Codel, Edward Hutchens, Eric Mill, Erin Kissane, Erin Simon, Ernie Reed, Fred Benenson, Heather Higgins, Hope Leman, J. Ashley Odell, Jana, Jared, jason inofuentes, jay dedman, Jeff Cornejo, Jennifer Berk, Jessie Phillips Andersen, Joe Germuska, Joe Stanley, John Bracken, John Brainard, Katherine McNamara, Kenton Ngo, Laura Bergus, Laura Goren, Liza Daly, Llew, Mark Jaquith, Matt Cutts, Matthew Derby, Max Fenton, Max Temkin, Mildred Carson, Noah McMurray, Noah Veltman, Norcross, Paul Wright, Peter Richardson, Rebecca Williams, Rob Pegoraro, Ross M Karchner, Russell Perry, Ryan Looney, Ryan Wold, Sam Bailey, Sarah Hovde, Scott Kuhagen, Scott Simpson, Seamus Kraft, Sean Holihan, Shaun Kenney, Shayna Englin, Susan McGinnis, Taylor Lorenz, Thomas Ciszek, Tracy Gordon, Trey Mitchell, Tristen Pegram, Vivian Paige, Will Van Wazer, Yancey Strickler, and Zachary Nicoll.

Video on Internet Archive

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

In an effort to make our video of the General Assembly as accessible as possible, we’ve partnered with the amazing Internet Archive, the 16-year-old internet library with the mission of permanently housing all human knowledge. Nearly 200 videos from 2008–2011 have been uploaded, about 200 GB in total, with another 300 still to be added. (The 2008 video is still to come, with 2012 on the way, and 2013 once the session actually happens.) While these videos are all available on Richmond Sunlight, putting them on the Internet Archive ensures that they’ll be available permanently, that they’re provided in the most modern, popular formats, and that they can be downloaded in their entirety quickly and conveniently. Browse the collection on the Archive, where you can download files as MP4s, Ogg Theora, or even animated GIFs.

Senator Garrett’s Disappearing Bills

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Something interesting happened on Richmond Sunlight last week—three bills were listed here that weren’t listed on the legislature’s website. SB704, SB705, and SB706 were all displayed on Richmond Sunlight, all filed by Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg), but the legislature’s website listed completely different bills under those same numbers. The bills on Richmond Sunlight were as follows:

Electric utilities; advanced meters. (SB704)
Prohibits any electric utility from installing an advanced meter on a customer’s premises or requiring a customer to use any advanced meter unless the customer has requested it. An advanced meter is a meter that is capable of measuring, recording, storing, and reporting usage according to predetermined time criteria and that allows two-way communications suited for demand-response programs. Electric utilities are also required to uninstall an advanced meter at a customer’s request; prohibited from giving any meter use data from an advanced meter to any person other than the electric utility; prohibited from shutting off service to a customer based on the amount of electricity the customer uses or the customer not having or using an advanced meter; prohibited from imposing any disincentive on a customer for not agreeing to the installation or use of an advanced meter; prohibited from obtaining data from an advanced meter more than once per month unless requested by a customer; and required to notify customers in writing that the installation and use of an advanced meter is not mandated by state law and is not permitted without the customer’s request. The measure also repeals an existing provision that prohibits an investor-owned electric utility participating in an energy efficiency program from connecting advanced metering technology and equipment on the customer’s side of the interconnection without the customer’s express consent.

Hunting nuisance species. (SB705)
Makes it lawful to hunt or kill nuisance species on Sunday. Among the species that could be hunted on Sunday are blackbirds, coyotes, crows, cowbirds, feral swine, grackles, English sparrows, starlings, and those species designated as nuisance species by regulations of the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Transportation of loaded rifles or shotguns; exemption. (SB706)
Provides an exemption for persons having a concealed handgun permit from local ordinances that prohibit carrying or transporting a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle on public highways or roads.

As you can see, the same bills on the legislature’s website (SB704, SB705, SB706) are completely unrelated, filed by different legislators.

So what was going on?

The simplest explanation was that these bills had been filed and then un-filed, but I didn’t see how that was possible. If the patron had pulled the bills, they’d still be listed, and their numbers certainly wouldn’t be reassigned. At a dead-end, I contacted Senate Clerk Susan Schaar (who, like the rest of the staff at the General Assembly, has been wonderfully, crucially helpful to Richmond Sunlight over the years) and asked her what was going on. She explained that, in fact, they had been un-filed, though under extraordinary circumstances.

They’re moving to a new electronic bill filing system—legislators no longer need to submit bills on paper, and now can do it via computer. A new legislative assistant inadvertently hit a poorly labelled button, and accidentally introduced three pieces of legislation. Schaar authorized pulling the bills, since they was never really properly introduced in the first place, as only a legislator has the administrative power to do that.

In the brief time that the trio of bills existed on the legislature’s website, Richmond Sunlight dutifully captured and displayed all of the information about them. When they were pulled and replaced with new, unrelated bills with the same numbers, the site updated all of that information appropriately, but kept the tags and comments, resulting in a trio of very confusing, utterly unrelated comments and wildly inappropriate tags. With no other course of action available, I deleted the comments (one of which I had written) and replaced the tags, leaving no sign that the inadvertently filed bills had ever existed. Though I’m still not sure that’s the best thing to have done, I don’t know of a better approach. Hopefully this is an edge case that won’t soon be repeated, because the site’s data structure wasn’t built to handle disappearing bills.

(A tip to Sen. Garrett: if you’re going to file “Hunting nuisance species,” you’ll need modify it so that it complies with federal law. Grackles, blackbirds, and crows are protected under the Migratory Bird and Game Mammal Treaty with Mexico, which limits hunting each of these birds to just 124 days a year. This bill would raise the limit to about 140 days, more than is allowed under federal law.)