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Open States


Open States relies on volunteers and contributions are extremely welcome. If you're interested in helping, this guide will help you find a place to contribute and walk you through the process of getting your code into the project.


The primary tool that we use to communicate is the Open States Google Group. If you aren't already a member, your first step toward contributing is to join. (We encourage you to introduce youself, too.) We also track all project issues on our issue tracker.

If you're on IRC, we also tend to spend time in #openstates on freenode. Feel free to stop by the channel if you have questions or want to get more involved.

Getting Started

Obtaining Source Code

In order to contribute you'll need a GitHub account. Once signed in to your account, visit the openstates project page and click the "Fork" button.

You'll see GitHub create a fork under your account. Check your fork out with a command like:

git clone git@github.com:YOURUSERNAME/openstates.git

Setting Up Your Environment

Once you have the code checked out you'll need to set up your environment.

(It is strongly recommended that you use both virtualenv and pip. If you aren't using these tools you will need to adjust these steps to suit your environment.)

To install all recommended libraries:

pip install -r requirements.txt

Writing a Scraper

All scrapers exist within a subdirectory of openstates/ with the two letter postal abbreviation of your state (e.g. wy for wyoming).

Scrapers that rely on parsing HTML use lxml which offers robust support for several different methods of scraping. For cases where lxml is not an option (such as scraping from text, CSV or PDF files), other libraries may be used.

All code specific to a stays within its directory, common files are:

When starting a new state you should first create an __init__.py that contains metadata.
Scraping of bills, including sponsorship information, actions, and (optionally) votes. Required
Scraping of legislators, optionally may scrape committees as well. Required
Scraping of committees,. (Only required if legislators.py does not add committees to legislators.)
Scraping of votes. (Only required if bills.py does not scrape votes.)

When implementing these files be sure to refer to the scraper documentation and completed states.

Running Your Scraper

There is an command named billy-update that is used to run scrapers and takes a number of command line options.

Examples of Common Usage

Getting all legislators for Vermont from the latest session:

billy-update vt --legislators

Getting all committees and bills for Pennsylvania from the 204th session:

billy-update pa --committees --bills --session 204

Viewing the Data

By default data is scraped and stored in JSON files on the local file system (in the data/ directory relative to where you ran billy-update)

If you wish to gain a more useful view on your scraped data you may wish to import the data into a local database. Doing so requires you to install MongoDB on your system.

If you have MongoDB installed you can run:

billy-update --import --report pa

Which would import all scraped data from Pennsylvania. The data is then available to be queried in your local MongoDB database.

Submitting Your Code

When you have working code that you'd like us to review, please email the group. One of the committers will review your code and integrate it into the repository.

Open States is licensed under the GPL 3, and by submitting your code for inclusion, you agree to allow your code to be distributed under this license.

As a rule, if you can show us that you can make several useful commits to improve a state, we'll be happy to take your contributions and give you commit access.