If you regularly go to free online resources like the excellent Texas Legislative Reference Library or the Texas Legislature Online, you know that after a legislative session, the text of the “official” statutes is very slow to change. For instance, as of today, the “Texas Constitution and Statutes” page has only been updated to be current as of the November 2011 constitutional amendment election, notwithstanding the fact that it is now 2014, and we’ve had another legislative session and constitutional amendments in 2013.
Why is TLO so slow to update? In part, it’s because West Publishing (a commercial legal publisher) publishes the official version of Texas statutes, and sells that version. West Publishing has a vested proprietary interest in preserving an embargo against more frequent online updating.
But it should at least be technically possible to use text scrapers and database automation to produce real-time updates of statutory material. The State of Texas already produces real-time updated administrative rules – in part because private publishers do not have a similar preexisting production monopoly on administrative law text.
I can’t give enough praise to the Texas Legislative Reference Library, whose current administration has done an amazing job of digitizing and preparing decades worth of previously unavailable legislative history material, including bill files and session laws produced over the last century. This material, along with the Texas Legislature Online’s excellent automated script for identifying sections of law affected by amendments, could be shaped into an extremely powerful tool, and a model for automatic state and federal legislative archiving.