The idea for the Revisors’ Project was originally born out of the extreme trepidation I experienced as I approached the dreaded 10th anniversary of our state's publication contract. Colorado law dictates that we issue an RFP (request for proposal) for the publication of Colorado's state statutes and session laws at least every 10 years. Although I was not involved in the process 10 years ago, I knew the world of publishing had changed significantly since then. Ten years ago terms such as “smart phone,” “iPad,” and “Droid” didn't even exist and the “application” certainly was not synonymous with a new form of digital publication that could make me feel simultaneously stupid and old. Ten years ago the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws had not yet determined a need for common statutory language for the 50 states to protect the integrity of the law on the World Wide Web! Ten years ago, if you simply made your state's statutes available to the public on the Internet, you considered yourself fairly progressive.
I began to panic about how a code revisor, in a time of increased demand for digital publications but shrinking budgets, could meet the expectations of an increasingly tech-savvy public and responsibly publish the state's laws in the multiple, ever-changing formats of today. I knew enough to know that I needed to consult my colleagues. Other state code revisors surely had recently grappled with the same quandaries and come out with a contract for the publication of their states’ laws that satisfied, or at least came closer to satisfying, 21st-century consumer expectations.
Around the same time, I found myself attempting to navigate the treacherous waters of copyright law and address the accusations made by some that Colorado had inappropriately claimed a copyright to the laws that rightfully should be a part of the public domain (which, parenthetically, it did not). Nonetheless, it caused me enough consternation and sleepless nights that, I consulted an experienced copyright attorney. But I also wondered if other states had been confronted with the same charge (besides Oregon and now Colorado). I was ready again to talk with other revisors about the issue.
My first inclination was to bring all of the nation’s revisors together to discuss these and the other pressing issues (large and small) that we face daily. I envisioned a scenario in which I could pose all my burning questions to my colleagues and reap the sage counsel they would dispense. However, when the cold, hard reality of frozen travel funds and dwindling state budgets finally sank in, my expectations of meeting my 49 colleagues began to fade. I reluctantly abandoned that hope.
I turned to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to help me reach out to my revisor colleagues in another way. Kae Warnock of the Legal Services Staff Section at NCSL suggested a survey. It seemed like the next best thing to an in-person meeting. And so, together we spent the next several months crafting a highly tailored survey that I optimistically expected would provide the answers I sought. Kae gets the credit for drafting the survey; I simply supplied the angst from which she could distill the questions. She sent the survey to the revisors in all 50 states in January 2011. It posed a variety of questions, the responses to which I hoped the state code revisors would also view as worthwhile and relevant to their responsibilities.
However, as the survey responses began to come in, I was reminded that we all use different terminology and exercise different responsibilities, and that each state’s approach to the publication process was surprisingly diverse. But despite the vast differences in our languages, duties, and processes, we still grapple with many of the same underlying issues and problems. There are common denominators and therefore lessons that we can learn from each other To date, 33 states have responded to the survey. NCSL would like to have a complete 50-state survey, so if your state has not yet responded, please do so. You may contact Kae at: firstname.lastname@example.org, for a copy of the survey. The tabulated results (in chart form) are available on NCSL's website at http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=23614. There is a lot of information in these charts, and I encourage you to take a look at them. They have been a terrific resource for me over the past several months.
The Revisors' Roundtable:
One of the questions posed toward the end of the survey was whether respondents would attend a gathering of revisors. (I still had not given up on the idea of a meeting!) While several indicated their state's budget would not allow for such travel, a sufficient number of affirmative responses encouraged Kae to pursue a first-of-its-kind, real-life, in-person meeting of the nation’s code revisors. I was thrilled. Kae arranged for space and time at NCSL's annual Legislative Summit in San Antonio, Texas, and, together, we put out the word that there would be a revisors' roundtable at the Summit.
On Aug. 8, 2011, representatives from 9 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, North Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin) and a couple of publishing houses (LexisNexis and Wolters Kluwer) attended the first annual Code Revisors' Roundtable. The group discussed a wide range of topics, including:
- The publication of statutes online—whether such versions are considered “official” and whether states have methods, such as hash readers or other digital technology, to assure users of its authenticity;
- Copyrighting of state law—whether states have been contacted by Justia or other individuals or organizations regarding the use of copyright and licensing fees; and
- Digital publications beyond the Internet.
The experience that seasoned veterans such as Vincent Henderson (Arkansas), Michael Chernick (Vermont) and Joanne Pepperl (Nebraska) shared enlightened relative newcomers such as myself. As the 90 minutes flew past, I began to realize that this revisors’ roundtable was less about getting “my” answers than about starting a dialogue and developing relationships. I realized this would simply have to be the first of many annual roundtables. So, save the date for the NCSL second annual Code Revisors’ Roundtable in Chicago at the NCSL Legislative Summit, Aug. 5 - 9, 2012. Start thinking about topics and questions you’d like answered there.
Meanwhile, Kae is building a listserv that revisors can use to pose inquiries and share ideas among ourselves. Please watch for it, and use it when it is completed. It is a means to continue our dialogue and share our knowledge until we meet again. Recently, an attorney from the Indiana revisor's office posed a series of questions related to the publication of conflicting and repealed provisions of law. Several of us responded, but it also went to folks in many states who simply did not know the answers and who discarded the inquiry. A revisors’ listserv would have directed her questions to the people who had the answers she needed. I called the attorney and invited her to the Chicago meeting. I told her to share how Indiana ultimately decided to approach this publication quandary. What question would you like to ask on the listserv? The hand-selected revisors and assistant revisors to whom this tool will be specifically targeted are the very individuals who will understand your questions and provide you with experienced, useful information. To join the listserv, send an email to email@example.com and put join revisors listserv in the subject line.