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Permanent Links For US Legislation Documents

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the get-crackin'-blue-book-kids dept.

United States 42

dizzymslizzy writes "With prompting from the Sunlight Foundation's Open House Project, the US Library of Congress announced today that its online database THOMAS will now generate persistent URLs, known as legislative handles, for legislation documents. As Free Government Info says, 'it is certainly nice to be able to link to legislation with a persistent link! But it would be much better if one could click to create a link rather than following a 600-word description of how to link on another page.' Still, this is a definite step forward for the Library of Congress and for government transparency. From THOMAS: 'Legislative Handles are a new persistent URL service for creating links to legislative documents from the THOMAS web site ( With a simple syntax, Legislative Handles make it easy to type in legislative links to bibliographies, reference guides, emails, blogs, or web pages. Legislative Handles, for instance,, are a convenient way to cite legislation.'

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Got UV 5,000,000 Sunblock ? (-1, Offtopic)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322539)

Cuz if you step on the wrong agency's documents and ask for them under FOIA, that "sunlight" will CRISP-FRY your ass somethin' realllll goood. And, it won't be "finger-lickin'-good", either. Even crabs wouldn't scavenge upon you after that... (well, if vaporized, there WON'T be anythin' left... hehehehe)

Re:Got UV 5,000,000 Sunblock ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25322667)

I don't understand why people are moderating this up as "interesting" when a simple glance at his bizarre comments and his posting history suggests that he suffers from mental illness. I sympathize, but "Offtopic" would be appropriate here.

Re:Got UV 5,000,000 Sunblock ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25323585)

I dunno, it's *kinda* interesting

"democracy" isn't just jingoist slogan (3, Informative)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323285)

something like this should have been established a long time ago. instead of listening to political demagogues engaging in mudslinging and espousing empty rhetoric, it would be much more productive to actually research current issues with direct access to new bills and legislative proposals. and once you have an educated and informed public, you can conduct mass referendums and let the public make policy decisions themselves (at least on the issues that effect our everyday lives, like drug policy, government surveillance, universal health care, tax policy, gay marriage, etc.).

ideally, the media would do its job keeping the public informed and hold politicians accountable for their actions. but sadly the mainstream media seems to have lost every shred of journalistic integrity and would rather cover celebrity gossip than political corruption, and the consolidation of the media by a handful of media conglomerates means that a handful of people control how the masses perceive the world, and news reporting is often skewed to reflect the world view of our cultural hegemons.

luckily, the internet is starting to change this by decentralizing media distribution and giving individuals access to a wide variety of independent news sources. no longer are corporate media conglomerates the gatekeepers of information. before i'd heard about THOMAS, i used to visit [] , which provides detailed voting records and public statements (as well as summaries of legislation) of current political leaders and presidential candidates. but a democratic government needs to directly provide this info to the public, and the web is the best way to do this.

i'm glad that this is finally achieved with the THOMAS database. however, i think they need to keep permanent online records for all government officials past and present--right now it only displays congressional records, but that gives the public no oversight of the rest of the government. even if many positions are appointed by the president, we can still hold the president accountable for the actions of his appointees. representative democracy only works if the electorate provides negative feedback when politicians fail to act in the interest of the people. that means the public needs to be ever vigilante of government corruption and incompetence. perhaps an online system can even be established so the public can give direct feedback to government officials on their present performance, and not just limit democratic feedback to public elections. for instance, if a particular cabinet member's public approval drops below 50%, then the president would be forced to appoint a new leader. and if the president's public approval drops below 30%, then that would be cause for a congressional hearing, potentially leading to impeachment.

the next step is to move beyond representative democracy and actually allow the public to participate directly in the democratic process. i know many people think that the average person isn't capable of making public policy decisions, but they can speak for themselves, not for others. i don't need some clueless politician making policy decisions for me. right now the government is run by a very particular social group most aptly described as the political aristocracy. how can a government be trusted to act in the best interest of its citizens when it is run entirely by individuals who come from a completely different socioeconomic background than most of the population. the ruling class of America are all rich old men who are completely disconnected from the reality of the average person. at the very minimum, politicians should be paid a salary equivalent to the mean annual salary of the average American. otherwise, if all legislators reside in the uppermost tax bracket, how can we expect them to make progress tax reforms that are in the interest of the average person?

in the past, logistical problems prevented regular broad-based referendums from being conducted to give the public direct involvement in the legislative process. but with the near ubiquitous nature of internet access, and the successful implementation of e-voting in national elections abroad, the technology is finally available to overcome these logistical problems. there is still need for professional civil servants in leadership positions in government for things like diplomacy/foreign relations, and certain defense and economic policies, but for most legislation, the public is perfectly capable of making informed decisions themselves--especially considering that most congressmen didn't even read the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act before passing it.

Re:"democracy" isn't just jingoist slogan (1)

pi_rules (123171) | more than 5 years ago | (#25332199)

something like this should have been established a long time ago.

It was.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) publishes html, text, and PDF versions of all legislation. Thomas even links to them when you're looking a bill, so it wasn't very hard to make a permlink to legislation.

The only real downside was that the GAO doesn't update as fast as Thomas does. Plus a lot of "noobs" would think the Thomas links were permanent and paste them into discussions.

National Initiative for Democracy (1)

a thing(amagigger) (1224030) | more than 5 years ago | (#25333573)

There is a movement, headed by Ralph Nader and Mike Gravel, called the National Initiative for Democracy [] to get referendums at the federal level.

Re:Got UV 5,000,000 Sunblock ? (2, Interesting)

TechForensics (944258) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323371)

Cuz if you step on the wrong agency's documents .....Even crabs wouldn't scavenge upon you after that

This kind of comment used to be a joke-- now, in the present US, it sounds like prophecy. God, people, just think of the damage wrought in the last eight years.

Re:Got UV 5,000,000 Sunblock ? Painful... (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 5 years ago | (#25329509)

You know what is painful? That a thread starting out at 0 (because i intentionally disable the karma bonus (without bragging that it's turned off)) is knocked to -0 or -0, Off-topic (either before or after others' comments are added), then through sloppy non-tracking and dodgy code of Slashdot, other comments can be appended, gain bonus points, and even quoted the original/slammed/ridiculed gp, and yet the gp does not get automatically "raised" commensurate to (but not necessarily higher than) useful comments of others.

In other words, someone comments, is punished, then quoted by another, who in effect validates the ridiculed/punished commenter, and then Slashdot's coded does not close the loophole exploited by those on a "kill/vendetta" mode of operation.

This hurts, and it CAN be dealt with, but for economic or political reasons, Slashdot "seems" contented with just leaving things this way (for now, but hopefully not forever...).

But, my hat is off to TechForensics. Thank you for quoting me and somewhat validating my wry/possibly forecasting-like comments. I really do appreciate it.


Nice documentation (1)

pugugly (152978) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322561)

Nice - you should be able to setup a Firefox keyword search for anything you want from there!


Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (5, Insightful)

yoha (249396) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322677)

That website is one of the hardest to use. One of the biggest faults is that there is no differentiation in the search results between major and minor efforts. Try these three searches and you'll see how difficult it is to use: []

1. Find the No Child Left Behind Act

2. Find the roll call of the recent Wall Street bail-out

3. Find HR 700 from the 103rd Congress (this should presumably be the easiest since you have the "key")

It's almost as if they do not want you to read it.

Wow (1)

ipjohnson (580042) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322755)

Your not kidding that is useless.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (5, Informative)

xur17 (835191) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322825)

If you really want to find anything on their site, just use site: ex: [] I do agree though, the search on their site is awful.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (2, Informative)

kesuki (321456) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322847)

well, it is useless, but google isn't. []

dunno what the 1st link is, but the second link on google, lists no child left behind on a page of laws...

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 5 years ago | (#25326631)

In the EU the problem is the same. It is a mess to link EU documents, so the best thing you can do is to mirror them.

The European access to documents directive is undergoing a recast procedure. [] Further an Italian MEP just released a draft report for the annual report on document access [] . All members of the LIBE Committee can make a difference.

While this sort of legislation really makes high impact there are only few persons who care about this field and follow the legislation. Your chance to get involved, become a freeourdocuments nerd and make a difference! All you need is a wiki and collect all the stuff.

If you are interested in the matter UK based statewatch [] is a good information source to understand what is going on.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322923)

It's almost as if they do not want you to read it.

Are you really surprised at all? It's a token gesture. "Hey, check out all of the legislation we've done online in a really poorly designed system!"

I'll wait for some geek to cook up a script that will organize the pages better.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (3, Informative)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323005)

1) []

2) [] (warning, might not be a permalink; as a bonus, the bill text proper [] )

3) []

All three in less than ten minutes. Though #3 was a gimme, and it was easier to find the bill than the roll call for #2.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25323093)

"less than ten minutes" - lol. you sound impressed with that.
Now find the same stuff with Google.
It's not even Google's job.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323227)

Not so much "impressed" as "it's nowhere near as painful as the grandparent made it out to be". No Child Left Behind isn't returned in the first ten results for that phrase, so it's not like Google's doing better...

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 5 years ago | (#25324323)

I use [] I also add their search engine to my Firefox.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 5 years ago | (#25324327)

Oops, I meant [] is a squatter.

Thomas is a joy (1)

metternich (888601) | more than 5 years ago | (#25330705)

compared to pretty much any state legislature site. I can find what I want quickly and easily, once I know the name of the bill, (which I can get from Google, etc.) The Massachusetts legislature's site makes me want put my head in blender.

Re:Thomas is one of the hardest sites to use (1)

mark0978 (1052438) | more than 5 years ago | (#25331199)

I think part of the problem is that this contains all the lawyer speak of the actual bills, vs the news media speak for everyone else to consume.

Looks like they need to let Google index it and link it to news articles.

DOI's use the handle system (3, Interesting)

1_brown_mouse (160511) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322843)

But they seem less convoluted and actually make an effort for you to find them easily.

They are used extensively for academic publishing content.

Just use (3, Informative)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 5 years ago | (#25322907)

Like the rest of the world does.

Re:Just use (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25323123)

+1 for good link: []

-0.5 for making the link unclickable by putting it in the title

Things not to put in the title: links and the first half of a sentence concluded in the body (I usually skip over the titles).

I break up sentences in titles... (1)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 5 years ago | (#25325843)

... to annoy trolls, grammar nazis, and to force everyone else to think about what I said.

Look! Another Wheel (0, Troll)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323023)

I guess Google Docs was too difficult? Have these guys never heard of CMS apps like Wordpress or the like?

Shit! Just have them install SlashCode and be done with it. Then, citizens could even comment on legislation. The legislators could sort-by-highest-rating and filter out "funny" and "off-topic" and even get some insight into what the citizens think of the proposed bills.

Leave it to the US Government to re-invent the wheel. And give the fucking thing corners as an added bonus.

Re:Look! Another Wheel (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25323221)

i call dibs on the first legislative RickRoll.

Re:Look! Another Wheel (1)

hajus (990255) | more than 5 years ago | (#25324851)

Replying to negate incorrect mod. (slashcode needs a method to correct such without posting)

Re:Look! Another Wheel (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323239)

Just have them install SlashCode and be done with it. Then, citizens could even comment on legislation. The legislators could sort-by-highest-rating and filter out "funny" and "off-topic" and even get some insight into what the citizens think of the proposed bills.

I think that they'd be afraid of that. It would be too much of an eye-opener.

Re:Look! Another Wheel (1)

NoisySplatter (847631) | more than 5 years ago | (#25325385)

I think they'd just be afraid of all these new overlords we're welcoming all the time. Not to mention our business plans with a step missing.

Time for some Legal Upgrades (1)

PowerVegetable (725053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323121)

It's time for the government to implement some documentation upgrades.

With open-source collaborations, the code has to be easily accessible and clearly documented if you have any hope of bringing new contributors up to speed. Dense projects with bad documentation fail.

A member of the public that wants to research existing law and proposed changes has no effective tools on hand. This THOMAS thing is a joke compared to other documentation search systems.

I don't have to get a doctorate in computer science to read the Firefox source code, and I shouldn't have to get a doctorate in law to understand what the senate voted on this week.

As long as we're blowing tax money like a coke-fueled Vegas bender, we should develop a strategy for semantic markup of legal documents, and bring legal documention into the 21st century. Ideally:

a) Legal documents should be revised data, with diff revision histories instead of separate amendments. Try searching THOMAS for a document, and see how many amendments you get. Now go look at the revision history of any Wikipedia article.

b) Legal documents should be machine readable. If they're too complicated to search effectively, then they're not semantic enough. If google can index an internet's worth of websites, then the government should be able to build a searchable legal structure.

This isn't even discussing realtime data access like budget or spending reporting. It's all in a computer somewhere, why can't I see it? If google can show me the trends of a world-full of internet search requests, why can't I see a real-time report of money flow at all levels of the government? Why can't I see a list of all the assets the government owns?

I think when all's said and done, you'll find an awful lot of resistance from any given politician to any idea of over-the-shoulder oversight from the public. Bad documentation and eye-glazing legal syntax is their obscurity blanket.

About damn time! (2, Informative)

Stalin (13415) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323359)

Creating THOMAS links in the past was ridiculously complex. You essentially had to craft a search query that would go directly to the document you wanted to like. E.G. [] .

Whereas if you tried to use the link from THOMAS' search results, you would get something like [] . Of course, this link is time limited and it isn't at all clear how you would construct the permanent link. [] is much easier to construct and is somewhat clear. Now if only they would provide the link in the THOMAS search results.

US Law needs a "Source Code Management" System (2, Interesting)

khafre (140356) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323641)

This is a bit off topic, but I'm surprised how fast and loose congress is with the laws of this country in general. I hope that, within my lifetime, no change to the law is committed to the books without some kind of documentation, a diff if you will, complete with names of everyone who worked on a change, be it a lawmaker or lobbyist. If someone amended a bill, it should be tracked and tied with the name of the person who added the amendment. How come companies can be so strict with the source code of their revenue-generating products, yet we can't provide the same controls on the laws that govern the United States?

Re:US Law needs a "Source Code Management" System (3, Funny)

Ortega-Starfire (930563) | more than 5 years ago | (#25323885)

Wikipedia for the US congress? Now that could be funny.

Rejected by Supreme court. [Citation needed for proof of constitutionality.]

Repassed congress and house. [It's for the children, damn the constitution.]

Veto by president. [Screw you.]

Veto ruled unconstitutional by judicial review. [Screw you too.]

That's what Thomas is. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25324591)

Thomas is an external front end to the Congressional bill management system. The actual bill source is maintained within the back end system that Thomas queries. It's a web front end to a legacy database system, which is why it didn't have stable URLs. It's a bit painful to use because it has nothing like PageRank to move the "important" stuff to the top of results. But that's as it should be, because you don't want your source code control system deciding what's "important".

Re:US Law needs a "Source Code Management" System (1)

Andurin (653272) | more than 5 years ago | (#25327239)

The Sunlight Foundation recently launched a project called Public Markup [] that is a model for allowing citizens to comment on legislation. There are also [] and [] , both aimed at putting more information into the hands of citizens, and allowing them to participate more directly, in the lawmaking process.

Re:US Law needs a "Source Code Management" System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25327615)

Subversion for Thomas!!!!!

On the other hand, we need to change the name of the package, it sounds too close to revolution for some people to feel comfortable with :) :)

Open source is better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25324393)

If you want real transparency in government, you can't beat open source governance [] .

payment link for US leg. docs (1)

stormguard2099 (1177733) | more than 5 years ago | (#25326225)

I swear that what I read the first time I saw the title and then it got me thinking wouldn't that be a cool idea? Instead of us geeks having to find our own lobbyist we could just use distributed funding to pay for the laws that we want. Kind of like community special interest pressure.

Aaron James (1)

Jim_97 (1385935) | more than 5 years ago | (#25380043)

URGENT DANGER! PLEASE PROPAGATE! Legislation in the U.S. is Meaningless- We are exposing their crimes-they are trying to MURDER MY MOTHER AND I IN CANADA for our efforts. Look to RNC and removal of 4th/ 1st Amendments. Laws are meant for the government to impose tyranny not for them to follow. Legislation is illusion and fallacy. My mother and I know- there have been 15 attempts on our lives. OUR WEBSITE AARONJAMESSORY.COM JUST REMOVED BY GOVERNMENT TO OCCLUDE KIDNAPPING/MURDER ATTEMPTS UPON US IN CANADA FOLLOWING U.S. AIRLINE PROFILING ATTACK ***ALL IMPORTANT LINKS MP3â(TM)S AND MEDIA REPORT LINKS and CORROBOATIVE REFRENCES/CONTACTS GIVEN AT BOTTOM AND THROUGH THE TEXT *** recent abduction attempt VIDEO WITNESSED here [] . Government Downs our Website And then ATTACKS [] KBOO RADIO REPORTS ON MY WEBSITE GOING DOWN AND KIDNAPPING CRISIS SITUATION: [] Summary::U.S. Northwest Airlines Attack upon my mother and I and extensive extrajudicial persecution (framed, covert tribunal, threats , stalking, sabotaged mail etc) prompts us to expose their crimes on line. This spawned repeated attempts at kidnapping or murder by *criminally charged local Winnipeg police (acting covertly without warrant or charges) on behalf of U.S. judicial and corporate factions including FBI CIA and NSA, in attempt to silence us. Winnipeg police remain motivated by a close affiliation with Minneapolis Police: Winnipeg Police Chief Keith Mc Caskill is president of North West Chapter of Associates FBI with Minneapolis Police affiliation and was referenced by police upon the first kidnapping/murder attempt. Family Friends Associates threatened, terrorized now 3 years ongoing as police use many covert tactics in order to effect attempts at kidnapping, havening necessitated my going into hiding in remote locations for extended periods of time. Family and I have been traumatized, I with 12 trips to hospital with Heart Attack symptoms via combination of the effects of the tasing attack and ongoing persecution and my 64 year old motherâ(TM)s health rapidly deteriorating. Canadian and U.S. government attempting to conceal culpability have not only been negligent in refusing assistance, but complicit in cross border collusion towards this effect. As example, Foreign affairs representative Estelle Battahdier stated "Let us know if they torture you or ask you to commit indecent acts-but still, we will not intervene-this is a U.S. affair." Provisions for just such assistance from Foreign affairs were found online by journalist Lesley Hughes, at Foreign affairs, Canadian Human Rights Amnesty International, Manitoba Human Rights, the House of Commons (approached by local MP Steven Fletcher) MP's Annita Neville,Penny Priddy(approached on our behalf by Roche Tasse President of International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group Ottawa) Globe and Mail May 10 2007 clearly reads "Ottawa sacrificed Arar to save face with Syria and the United States". Canada's complicity is clear. Media, once slandering online on television newspaper and radio, now censor in order to assist government ploys therein. Threats received by covert U.S. agency including FBI indicate severe harm and possible death resultant as consequence if they are successful. Local Winnipeg Police Chief in Canada is FBI asset, graduate of Northwest Chapter of Associates FBI with MN affiliation. Winnipeg Police now remain in violation of court order to return property thieved upon original kidnapping attempt and stall court proceedings to hide complicity in cross border collusion with the U.S. from the court, motivated further towards collusion and our harm, in that among the officers involved, two are now charged amogst 4 Winnipeg police charged as of Jan of this year with illegal entry and perjury, and amongst those two is Jess Zebron, step son of former police chief Jack Ewatski who resigned disgraced late last year 2007 over issues of corruption and racism. *** Corroborative Contacts/ Reports: *** Links and Audio/ Video Clips at bottom *** Canadian Dimension Magazine Preliminary report: [] Source: [] (see âoealert #62 on the page) Wayne Madsen Report: [] NORTHWEST AIRLINEâ(TM)S FBIâ(TM)S TIES AND TARGETTING EXPOSED. ADVOCACY FROM ROCH TASSE International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group [] Roch Tasse International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group ph: 613 241 5298; Lesley Hughes Canadian Dimension Magazine; Our attorney Adam Masiowski Pinx Law 204 949 1700 ext 3. KBOO REPORT "Aaron's WEbsite Goes Down via Government" : Confirmation Minneapolis Police Brutality/Corruption Michelle Gross head of Communities United Against Police Brutality in Minneapolis, and recently attacked at RNC Aug 29/08 at Convergence Center by MN Police KBOO RADIO REPORTS ON MY WEBSITE GOING DOWN AND KIDNAPPING CRISIS SITUATION: [] IMPORTANT LINKS OUR ACCOUNT: SUMMARY OF LINKED ILLICIT ATTACKS (*now 13 further attacks since this account written) [] Indymedia Site TEMPLATE GHOST FILE OF AARONJAMESSTORY.COM [] The WAYNE MADSEN REPORT-Northwest_Airlines_and_FBI_TARGET_CANADIAN_Man_Caught Up In_Racial_and_Religious_Profiling Winnipeg Police are Criminally Charged in Separate Crimes! *CriminallyCharged Winnipeg Police! [] Canadian police Corruption Unprecedented: A growing number across Canada facing charges [] Video Kidnapping Attempts [] [] Focus on the OCT 27 HOME RAID / ABDUCTION: Oct 27 Home Raid by ... CrossBorderCollusion:FBI/WpgPoliceChief/Minneapolis/MinJusticeDavidChomiak
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