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Indiana legislature’s paperless initiative aims to increase efficiency

by Kate Tormey ~ January 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In 2011, the Indiana legislature embarked on the first major revamp of its website and information management system in more than 15 years. The goal: to increase efficiency and keep up with the rapid increase in electronic devices being used by legislators, staff and the public.
The initiative was launched as a result of a request by legislative leadership to study technology upgrades and the use of paperless systems. The Legislative Service Agency then partnered with Ball State University to gather information on these issues.
What resulted was a recommendation to pilot a paperless initiative through the use of tablets – which are lighter and less expensive than laptop computers (and becoming more common).
“We wanted to take advantage of potential cost savings by reducing paper, increasing efficiency as a result of being able to move things electronically and better than we could under the old system,” says George Angelone, executive director of the Indiana Legislative Services Agency.
He points out that while paper itself can be expensive, it is actually the production and storage of paper that accounts for the largest cost — such as the time needed to make copies, deliver them to legislators, file and store archives, and so on.
“It takes time to print 150 copies of a 200-page bill, but it takes no time to send it electronically to people,” he says.
To test the idea of a “paperless” Indiana legislature, a pilot program was launched in 2012 and 2013 involving a few legislative committees in each chamber. Each member was given a tablet to use for legislative work — reviewing bills, signing motions and accessing reports could all be done electronically.
Overall, Angelone says, the experience was positive. The tablets’ long battery life could withstand extended use during hearings, and the lighter equipment traveled more easily than laptops and offered secure access to real-time updates on the go.
In order to be more compatible with these kinds of devices, the state’s legislative branch also needed to revamp the computer system used by legislators, staff and the public to keep track of bills and related documents.
Angelone says the legislature wanted to improve on the proprietary system that had been in use since 1996.
After the two-year trial run, the new system went live throughout the legislature at the beginning of session this month.
Legislators can now choose a state-issued tablet in lieu of a laptop, which will save the state $400 per device in hardware and software.
Angelone says the legislature also wants to be responsive to the fact that more and more legislators are carrying many different types of devices, including smartphones and tablets — both personal and work-related. The system being launched this month is engineered to be compatible with any device.
“You bring it, we’ll support it,” Angelone says.
And the new system has another new feature: the ability to sign legislative documents from anywhere and even to vote on legislation electronically through one’s tablet. But there is one thing that Angelone doesn’t expect to change anytime soon: the custom that lawmakers be present on the floor of the legislature when voting.
“You still need that face-to-face involvement when you are debating and discussing,” he says.

 

 
Capital Closeup is an ongoing series of articles done by CSG Midwest highlighting institutional issues in state government and legislatures.