Legislative Impact offers, for the first time, an automated way for lawmakers, lobbyists and other beltway insiders to track and audit how new or proposed legislation effects existing law.
This previously manual task which involved parsing through bills and federal codes, matching references and looking up legislative texts is now a slick, easy to use product that is part of the comprehensive CQ.com product offerings.
And it's all built on XQuery and MarkLogic Server.
How did they do it?
First they started with some XML. And not just any old XML, but genuine government issued billtext XML.
While this contains all of the actual text and some base metadata, Congressional Quarterly then enriches the content by adding a great deal of additional metadata, classification, sorting and other parameters to make is searchable, displayable and to build a base to build targeted applications on.
Then they do the really neat part - they run the XML through a process where the meaningful phrases, names, bill codes and public law references are tagged in place.
Then they built an application using MarkLogic Server and XQuery that takes full advantage of this enriched content.
To start with, the basic metadata on a bill is searchable. So you can select by bill number, name, sponsor, year etc etc.
We had a look at the Patriot Act and learned that it is really called "To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes."
And that, at the time it was passed, it changed 30 prior laws!
Some things you might expect like banking and crime identification laws but also some interesting ones like The Improving America's Schools Acts of 1994.
Even more interesting is that the Patriot Act itself has been changed by 9 new laws . . . and that there are 22 (!) active bills that would change it further - including the HR 5749 — Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act (SAFETY) of 2006 (which makes just 1 change).
Congressional Quarterly is able to package all this up for even a complete legislatvie novice like me to understand becuase they can use xQuery on the markup within the bills to dynamically construct this live, up-to-pdate report.
This goes way beyond the simple matching of meta-data . . . the XQueries are going into the body of every public law and bill and matching out the references, no matter where they appear.
If I want to see just how the Internet Shopping bill effects the Patriot Act I just click that entry and I get just the relevant portion of that bill. (They want to change one item from $50M from $70M.) and can then jump to the portion of the Patriot which is changed (the funding for cybersecurity).
XQuery makes it all possible. By allowing CQ.com to build queries that match against the embedded markup around the public law and bill numbers they can find the deep linkages that, probably, some lawmakers would prefer weren't so exposed.
And then, using the structure of the billtext XML, they can navigate and show to you, the reader, just those sections you are interested in.
Imagine going from surfing multiple sites, marking up printouts of bills with notes and matching it all together by hand to this kind of seamless online product.
CQ.com calls it a task based application (as in we let you complete the entire task with this one product).
I call it staying true to Warren Miller's rule number 1: "Always make an Impact!"