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New Hampshire Legislature Passes Open-Source Software Bill

BY Raphael Majma | Friday, February 10 2012

The New Hampshire state legislature recently passed a bill that makes open data and open source software included by default in the state's procurement process.

The bill, HB 418, requires government officials to consider open-source products when making new technology acquisitions and only purchase products that comply with open data standards. Last year, Nick Judd covered how the New Hampshire legislature changed with the addition of several “geeks” to the House of Representatives and the passage of this new legislation shows a growing culture of friendliness to the tech concept of “open” in the statehouse. It is currently on its way to the governor's desk for signing.

Open source advocates say the New Hampshire bill represents an evolution for open software in government.

"I'm pretty sure the NH law is the best (particularly on definitions)," said Philip Ashlock, the open government program manager at OpenPlans, "but it's not the first."

Bill sponsor Seth Cohn says that previous open-data and open-source bills were unable to get much traction in the statehouse. Prior to becoming a member of the House, Cohn was an activist who attempted to get similar legislation passed while working outside the government. What he found when he became a government official was a more prepared audience than he had anticipated.

“In 2006 when I started talking about open source, people asked about how they could compete with Microsoft. There had to be remedial education. This time, we did very little of that,” said Cohn. He attributed a big portion of the change in tone to the maturation of open-source as a concept and the prevalence of tablet and mobile technology in the statehouse. However, some legislators were still cautious.

“People who were technophobes were very afraid of open source data. They were nervous about people breaking in. But it isn’t about people breaking in, it is about keeping information locked in,” said Representative George Lambert, a member of the House and another sponsor for HB 418. Lambert, along with Cohn, represent this new type of legislator that has a very specific view of how to build a better New Hampshire, or as Cohn puts it, “legislative government 2.0.” Other steps that have been taken towards better governance include placing all state expenditures online at NHOpenGov.org. The site, created by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, receives all of its funding from private donations and acts as a repository for government expenses.