Web Page Allows Public to Craft Law via Crowdsourcing

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto wants to make it easier for the public to get involved in the initiative process.

by Timm Herdt, McClatchy News Service / December 17, 2013

A California lawmaker who says he has a passion for improving the initiative process has devised a way to let the public to write a law without having to go through the multimillion-dollar exercise of qualifying an initiative for the ballot.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Silver Lake, announced Monday that he has created a Wiki page for his process, which involves crowdsourcing. He is inviting interested Californians to propose, refine and develop a bill that he will introduce next year. The initial topic for what Gatto says will be the first crowdsourced bill in the country is probate law.

Gatto said the topic was chosen because he thought many professionals, such as attorneys and CPAs, would likely have ideas to improve probate law. He said he also thought thousands of ordinary people likely have had experiences that could enable them to provide useful ideas.

The page was created Monday. Gatto hopes to introduce finished legislation by Feb. 21, the deadline to submit bills for the 2014 lawmaking session.

Gatto said he plans to keep himself entirely out of the process of developing the bill and will advocate whatever consensus idea the Wiki community produces.

The Wiki process has proved to be an effective way to allow online communities to collaborate, Gattos said. Because it is self-policed by users, Gatto is confident that participants will reject any plainly unworkable ideas.

"I would hope that the wisdom of the marketplace of ideas will come up with something good," he said.

He said he will have the Legislative Counsel's Office "standing by" to put into legislative language whatever plain-language proposal emerges. He also said the bill, like virtually all others, would likely be amended in some fashion as it passes through legislative committee hearings. To become law, it would need the approval of both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Gatto said his staff members and he have for years discussed alternative ways to engage the public in lawmaking as they considered changes to the initiative process. He credits Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for coming up with the crowdsourcing idea, as it was a potential approach Newsom discussed in his book, "Citizenville."

Gatto sees crowdsourcing as a practical alternative to the initiative process for allowing the public to make state policy.

"Right now, if you have $15 million, which is the cost of qualifying an initiative and advertising it, you have a chance of getting a law written. That mostly limits that process to special-interest groups," he said.

"If this works out, I would hope every member of the Legislature would offer something like this as time goes by," he said.

(c) 2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)