Editorial from The Findlay Courier

What good are public records if every public agency keeps them in a different format and makes only certain ones available online?

Not much, unless you’ve got the time to track them down and sort them out.

Fortunately, a movement is underway in Ohio to standardize the way many government records are maintained and made available to the public.

Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, and Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, have introduced bills designed to make it easier to find and understand data about local and state government. Called DataOhio Initiative, the program would promote open standards and make Ohio government more accessible and more accountable.

Citizens, as well as journalists and researchers, would be able to find and compare apples-to-apples data about various jurisdictions. It would be similar to the Cupp Report program that standardizes data for Ohio public schools.

The initiative would be created through passage of four separate bills.

House Bill 321 would require state and local public agencies to adhere to an open data standard, thus making information easier to access and search. All data would be posted in an open format that would be machine readable and available to the public without restrictions.

H.B. 322 would provide a uniform chart of accounts for state and local governments.

H.B. 323 would require Ohio to establish an online catalog to provide descriptions of datasets, tutorials and tools. The one-stop feature would help people avoid having to go to multiple places for similar data.

H.B. 324 would provide $10,000 grants to local governments as an incentive to provide budgetary, staffing and compensation information online in an open-data format that utilizes uniform accounting.

The DataOhio initiative would be advised by a 13-member board comprising designees from all five statewide officeholders — governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and secretary of state — along with the House speaker, the Senate president, minority legislative leaders, three local government representatives and the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents.

The board would advise the Legislature on improvements that could be made to further the initiative and increase open-data availability.

The bills have yet to be assigned to House committees. But Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said they could help make Ohio a leader among states in transparency of government information and make it easier for all citizens, including journalists, to track the way governmental bodies use taxpayer dollars and to allow for easier, apples-to-apples type comparisons.

It’s may be hard to find a problem with legislation like that.

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