In a ramp-up to next month’s Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation has announced Open States, a portal to give citizens access to state-based government data, such as names of state legislators and state legislation.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation promotes greater government openness and transparency through the Internet, and provides new tools and resources for both media, such as the NPR StateImpact Project, and citizens. The Open States project has taken four years to create.

“If you're interested in your state lawmaker, you'll be able to get notifications for their actions, a map of their district, voting records, committee assignments, campaign finance records from Influence Explorer, local news articles and contact information,” the organization writes in its blog describing the project. “If you're curious about a particular piece of legislation, Open States allows you to check on its status, find the sponsors, break down votes, view bill text and all supporting documents.” The system also enables users to search for various categories of legislation across state lines, and will be updated over time.

What was particularly a challenge was obtaining all the information from the various state websites, where it’s located in different formats, and putting it all in a standard format, the organization writes. It is scheduled to hold a free training webinar on Friday, February 22 from 1 to 2 pm EST on how to use the site.

Open States also has a companion iPhone and iPad app to browse the data remotely. In addition, the data is available through an API or by bulk download, while the code is open sourced and available on GitHub.

Sunshine Week, scheduled for March 10-16, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

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