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Tester introduces bill to put more public records online

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has introduced a bill before the U.S. Senate that would require government agencies to publish all their public records online, the Associated Press reports.

The Public Online Information Act (PDF) would put documents into a large, searchable government database where anyone with Internet access could see them, the Billings Gazette said.

The AP writes:

It would provide free, better and faster access to those records and eliminate the need for people to sort through warehoused print documents or wait lengthy times for a public records request to be filled, said Sen. Jon Tester, who introduced the bill.

Examples of information that would be available online that may not already be available include reports of travel by executive branch officials paid for by third parties, lobbying activities and financial disclosures by high-level officials, the Montana Democrat said.

Or, as the Gazette reported:

Currently, many federal documents are considered public. But the public can only see them, Tester said, if they wade through reams of documents or submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which can take months to process.

That’s not really public access, Tester said.

The law will not apply to classified documents and documents pertaining to ongoing investigations. It also will not affect documents published before the bill becomes law. This will save on the cost of scanning millions of pages of old documents, Tester said.

The goal is to create a database and software that can run on almost all computers. It also calls for the creation of an independent watchdog committee to make sure public information is accessible online, according to a statement published on Tester’s website.

The bill gives the government three years to get the database working.

A companion bill (PDF) has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.