D.C. residents are getting a big present for this year’s Sunshine Week: a new Web site that should make it easier than ever to search, browse and use District law.
DCdecoded.org is a project of the nonpartisan OpenGov Foundation and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability’s Office of Open Government. While the D.C. Code has long been available in libraries and through the D.C. Council Web site, it has long been accessible online only through clunky, proprietary Web sites geared toward lawyers and lawmakers, not the general public.
The new Web site, which went live Wednesday, is part of the “America Decoded” project that has already put the legal codes of three states and four cities in a free, modern and accessible format that offers an attractive user interface, mouse-over definitions for many legal terms, easy-to-use permanent links to specific lines of the code, and the ability for programmers to interact with the Web site to build new applications.
DCdecoded.org launches about a year after a D.C. software developer, Tom MacWright, and a California activist, Carl Malamud, first brought attention to the inaccessibility and questionable copyright status of the D.C. Code. Around that time, local techies and activists started working to put city laws in a more accessible public-domain format, with the notable assistance of the D.C. Council’s chief lawyer, David Zvenyach, who is himself an accomplished armchair coder.
The new Web site is winning praise from one lawmaker: Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said in a statement he is “thrilled to finally have the District’s Municipal Code in a user-friendly format,” putting residents “in a better position to engage with me and my colleagues on the D.C. Council because they will be able to understand how the laws we pass impact their lives on a daily basis.”