Website Sheds More Light on Florida’s Laws

Although a state’s laws can be found and read online, understanding the complicated laws can be quite difficult for the average American.  In an effort to make a more user-friendly way to read and understand Florida’s law books, one foundation has created an online website to make the statutes not only more accessible to citizens, but more meaningful and understandable as well

Barbara Petersen is the president of the First Amendment Foundation and her organization worked with the Florida Society of News Editors to assist in the new site’s, SunshineStatutes.com, development.  This new site has features that the Florida State site, Online Sunshine at leg.state.fl.us, does not.  For example, if a citizen wants to find out information on Florida’s divorce law, he will not only be able to read the legal law, but an easy-to-understand description of the law’s history with hyperlinked text that shows the definitions of terms in other parts of the law.

Florida is the second state to have its law books simplified by Waldo Jaquith, who describes himself as an “open government technology” advocate.  Jaquith first developed a website that tracked bills filed by Virginia’s General Assembly, and has been contracted by the White House to assist in creating a website that allows for easier tracking of lobbying, campaign finance and other ethics-related data.

When Jaquith received a Knight News Challenge grant in 2011 worth $165,000 to develop coding for other states, Rick Hirsch, the Managing Editor of the Miami Herald, requested that Florida be first.  Sunshine Statutes is currently in “public alpha” testing, which means the site is live and accessible, but still being updated  Once Jaquith moves on to another project, it will be up to the Florida Society of News Editors and the First Amendment Foundation to share the responsibility for keeping Sunshine Statutes updated and maintained, a task that Hirsch states they are committed to make happen, and also doesn’t think will be hugely expensive to do so.

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