- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Maryland General Assembly’s website is on its way to receiving a comprehensive makeover.

Michael Gaudiello, director of the office of legislative information systems, presented the preliminary redesign of the website to the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government in a meeting Wednesday.

The current website can be hard to navigate for information, said Democrat Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore County, co-chairman of the committee.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to take the wealth of information that already exists and to make it more accessible and the site more intuitive,” Mr. Ferguson said.

Some of the proposed new features of the website include a quick bill-search function, a bill-tracking option where users can sign up for alerts on specific  measures they want to follow and a page where constituents can send messages to their legislators.

Mr. Gaudiello said surveys of website users and discussions with General Assembly members informed the design. He said users especially wanted more links to information on the home page because they currently have to dig around to find simple information.

The redesigned home page will include a broad subject search and a frequently updated list of the most-searched-for bills.

There would also be a new tracking system that allows users to sign up with their email address for alerts on the status of specific bills. Users could create a list of bills they want to track and then receive either a daily status update, or an update only when the status changes.

A form allowing constituents to send messages to their legislators sparked the most conversation. Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore City Democrat, wondered whether the public needed another way to communicate. Mr. McFadden expressed concerns that the public and lobbyists would see this feature as an opportunity to overload the system when constituents already have the ability to email their legislators.

Mr. Gaudiello said that all features of the website are up for discussion and adjustment, as the redesign is still in its preliminary stages.

“It’s the beginning of the process,” he said. “We intend to add and expand and extend the website as the needs change and more and different information becomes available.”

Mr. Ferguson said the committee will discuss requests that social media be included on the website during future meetings.

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