About The Free Law Founders

The Free Law Founders (FLF) is a nationwide partnership of local elected officials, non-profit software developers, educators, and city attorneys dedicated to upgrading how citizens can access America’s laws, legislation, and the lawmaking process itself on the Internet. The Founders have accepted the challenge of creating the modern tools, data standards and processes our state and local governments need to meet the growing challenges of democracy in the Internet Age.

The FLF is open to anyone willing to help accomplish these goals across the country. Sign up today!

The Principles of Open Law & Open Legislation

Any citizen living in a Free Law community should be able to:

Problems We’re Solving Together

Some reasons behind the formation of the Free Law Founders:

Chicago, Illinois

The Process of Legislation and Codification

  • There are approximately 11 Council meetings per year.
  • Each Council meeting, over 11,000 pages are introduced and referred to a committee. Document types include ordinances, orders, appointments, resolutions, and the supporting documentation for each. We PDF, redact, and post all non-private information on the Legislative Information System within 48 hours of introduction. Next, the Clerk’s Office distributes the original (unredacted) to the appropriate committees for consideration, modification, and recommendation.
  • In the following weeks, committees return over 10,000 pages to the Clerk with a recommendation for full council action. We PDF and post any document modified during the committee process on the Legislative Information System.
  • About 10,000 pages pass per Council.
  • After each meeting, but prior to the next meeting, the Clerk’s Office synthesizes this information into a Journal of Proceedings that is approximately 2,000-3,000 pages.
  • The Journal of Proceedings is then used as the raw material for the codification process.

— City Clerk Susana Mendoza

Boston, Massachussetts

Navigating the Data

With so much open data being released often there is a question of what it means. For example, with permitting or health code violations how do we know what the letter of the law really is? How can we comply with something that is buried somewhere in a maze of government websites? A part of the picture is missing and that's where the legislation and other municipal code can help clear up the "what" and to answer questions on the "why".

— Curt Savoie, Principal Data Scientist, Department of Innovation & Technology

New York City

Finding and Submitting Legislative Information

  • Legistar is not easily searchable. Keywords searches have varying rates of success and often you can't find a bill unless you type its exact number, including the phantom zero.
  • Bills must still be submitted in paper form (4 copies of each). Given that digital versions of signatures are acceptable to sign onto and submit a bill, it would save time and trees to be able to submit electronic copies.
  • Not all of the video for committee hearings are posted to legistar. Some are, some aren't.

— Council Member Ben Kallos

Participatory Politics Foundation

The Demand for Better Government Data

Our previous non-profit project, OpenCongress.org, received up to 27 million web visits to official information about bills in Congress. The popularity of OpenCongress demonstrated there is a massive public demand for authoritative information about legislation, to track and share it with peers. When legislative data is made fully open to the public, developers and government watchdogs can make user-friendly, powerful web tools that connect communities to what’s happening in local government. One example is the open-source ChicagoCouncilmatic, which enables users to subscribe to email alerts and RSS feeds for legislative actions and provides more-accessible bill summaries for wider understanding.

— Executive Director David Moore

Washington, DC

Bringing More Voices Into Policymaking

Promoting an open and transparent government is among my top priorities as a lawmaker. I am pleased to join the Free Law Founders and support this national movement to make the legislative process accessible and accountable to all. Along with ethics and electoral reforms that I am pursuing, I believe open government efforts are critical to enriching our democracy and engaging residents within the community.

— Councilmember David Grosso

Municipal governments are historically inefficient and paper-based; they exclude citizens from playing any meaningful role. Through innovative tools, like MadisonDC and DCdecoded, we can now educate District residents, collect feedback and engage citizens in the legislative process from the ideation stage through successful passage. As a Free Law Founder, I'm excited to connect with government leaders across the country and to share ideas. We can learn from one another's experiences rather than reinvent the wheel.

— Councilmember Tommy Wells

The Free Law Challenge

You can join the Free Law Founders Challenge: to create a free online suite of tools for for legislatures in order to make our governments more accessible, understandable and participatory.

Steps Toward Accessibility

At their keynote speech Hack The Law in 2014, New York City Council Member Ben Kallos and San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell called on a nation of civic hackers to create a free and open source democracy platform for legislatures by next year.

The site will have five free and open source tools for:

  • Drafting legislation
  • Commenting on legislation
  • Making it available over open API
  • Opening up the law online
  • Authenticating the law

Government is due for an upgrade, and this challenge helps get us there. Legislatures can become the most transparent, efficient and connected versions of themselves, but only if we apply our collective ingenuity to the task.

Declaration of Independence of Law

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” that laws are “wholesome and necessary for the public good,” that ignorantia juris non excusat “is a maxim of universal application that every man is presumed to know the law, and it would seem inherent that freedom of access to the laws, or the official interpretation of those laws, should be co-extensive with the sweep of the maxim. Knowledge is the only just condition of obedience,” that “such material as the laws and governmental rules and decisions must be freely available to the public and made known as widely as possible; hence there must be no restriction on the reproduction and dissemination of such documents.”

We believe that our system of government is no longer free for the governed to access in the method of our times. And we, the Free Law Founders, have come together to tackle this growing challenge to democracy in America the American way: with innovation, with collaboration, and with a firm belief that in our country, better is always possible.