Texas bill would require courts, judicial agencies post “high-value data sets” online

Cross-posted to Court Technology Bulletin.

Novelist and attorney George Higgins once quipped that “Data is what distinguishes the dilettante from the artist.” Whether true or not, the press for data, especially from courts, is an ongoing saga.

Into this comes Texas’ SB 701 of 2011. The bill, as approved on a 31-0 vote of the the Texas Senate last week, would require “state agencies” (which for these purposes include any “board, commission, office, department, or other agency in the…judicial…branch of state government”) to post high-value data sets online. Said “high-value data” must:

  1. be raw data;
  2. in an open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information;
  3. accessible from the the agency’s Internet website home page under a uniform resource locator suffix “data”; and
  4. be not more than two mouse clicks from the agency’s Internet website home page

So, what is a “high-value data set”? According to the bill, it includes any information that meets any of the following criteria:

  1. can be used to increase state agency accountability and responsiveness
  2. improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations
  3. further the core mission of the agency
  4. create economic opportunity
  5. respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation

Explicitly excluded is any information that is confidential or protected from disclosure under state or federal law. But things get even more interesting in the other exceptions. Data need be posted if and only if the “state agency”:

  1. determines that, using existing resources, the agency can post the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  2. enters into a contract advantageous to the state under which the contractor posts the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  3. receives a gift or grant specifically for the purpose of posting one or more of the agency’s high-value data sets on the Internet website.

The bill is currently pending in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.