The process of turning a bill into a law requires thousands of pages of paper. Even the bills that do not become laws consume stacks and stacks – literally tons – of paper each year.
But the tide may be turning. A pilot project in the Indiana General Assembly is being expanded with the goal of eventually replacing all that paper with electronic copies. The Statehouse is hanging its dreams of going paperless – and of reducing costs – on the iPad.
During the 2012 session, members of only two legislative committees were given tablets, and the result has been deemed a success by groups inside and outside the General Assembly. Elected officials liked not having to carry large amounts of paper to hearings and legislative sessions. The convenience factor enticed those lawmakers who did not use their laptops into using the iPad.
“Occasionally, I find myself wanting to write on a piece of paper,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, “but, for the most part, the move to paperless was seamless.”
In addition to the pilot iPad program, the Legislature is also upgrading its computer system. The Legislative Services Agency entered into a $4.46 million contract with Propylon Inc. to modernize and improve the 15-year-old system so it can support new technologies.
Propylon conducted an initial analysis of the system as well as the IT infrastructure and confirmed the Legislature’s current system is struggling to meet
its growing technological needs. Admittedly, the tablets are increasing the strain, but even without the mobile devices the antiquated system is consuming staff time in maintenance rather than in providing new services. The technologies in use are not well integrated, which requires staff members to manually rekey and move data.
The upgrade project began in October 2012 and will be completed in 2015.
Because of the limitations of the computer system and a lack of knowledge concerning what tablets can and cannot do in a legislative setting, the Indiana General Assembly is taking baby steps in its introduction of the iPads.
The tablets were given only to members of the Education Committee in the House of Representatives and the State Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee in the Senate during the 2012 legislative session. Bills, motions and reports were distributed electronically to these committees and were immediately available to the public attending the meetings.
In the upcoming legislative session, the pilot program will increase to include the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.
Hershman, R-Buck Creek, served as chair of the Legislative Council Data Processing Subcommittee, which evaluated the iPads, and chair of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.
“I can’t say it changed the way I functioned because the deliberative process remained the same, but the efficiency of going through the deliberative process increased,” Hershman said of using tablets. “The result has been very positive.”
Into the recycling bin
The iPad pilot program traces its roots to the summer of 2011 when the Indiana Legislative Council asked its Data Processing Subcommittee to evaluate the potential use of tablets in the General Assembly. The focus was to determine how flexible and convenient the devices were to use and how effectively they could reduce or eliminate the need for paper.
During any legislative session, the House and Senate consume massive amounts of paper primarily to make copies of bills, motions and committee reports to distribute to legislators, staff and the public. From 2000 to 2011, the number of copies produced in each session ranged from 2.36 million to 6.90 million. This translated into 5.90 tons to 17.25 tons of paper being used annually.
The 2011 report from the subcommittee estimated the cost of using paper documents during the 2011 session alone topped $550,000.
Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, has brought his personal iPad to the Statehouse for two years and will be part of the expanded pilot program as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
He has found the tablet to be invaluable in helping him decrease the amount of paper that crosses his desk. Multi-paged bills are printed and distributed whenever there is a new amendment or a change in a couple of lines. First members have to wait for the new copies to arrive then, at some point, they walk to the recycling bin to pitch those pages.
Truitt used his tablet to access the bills and reference the changes online. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he was able to pull up the documents and keep pace with the tremendous amount of reading legislators have to do.
“I believe the way the tablet is intended to be used works perfectly with what we do from the amount of reading,” Truitt said.
Both Hershman and Truitt found the tablets also help them quickly address the concerns of their constituents. Whether talking to a member of the public during an impromptu meeting in a Statehouse hallway or speaking to a group at a town hall event, Hershman and Truitt used their iPads to either find the answer or send an email to the appropriate agency.
“At the end of the day, from the legislative perspective, the ability to have a bill on the go is so critical,” Truitt said.
Similar tablet initiatives to reduce paper have been launched in other state legislatures. The efforts vary from substituting electronic distribution of bills, motions and other documents for paper to converting one or more legislative activities to being a fully paperless process.
An informal survey by the National Association of Legislative Information Technology showed that legislatures using iPads generally liked the devices. However, the users preferred their laptops and desktop computers for creating documents and word processing functions.
A survey of Indiana legislators found they trusted paper documents more than electronic versions, and they found comparing bills or motions to be easier when the information was in printed form. Also, while the tablet is easy to use, some of the apps are not as dynamic or have as many capabilities as the current software.
Indiana officials commonly cited the difficulty of word processing on the iPad compared to a laptop and the inability to scratch a short note on the side of the document as a source of frustration.
To be truly paperless, pen and paper will have to be replaced by electronic filing and electronic signatures. The LSA is running a test, limiting the documents that can be eligible for electronic treatment during the 2013 session.
As part of the test, the Senate adopted a change to Senate Rule 66(d) that permits electronic signature and electronic filing but only if it gets prior approval from the president pro tempore and only for the two Senate committees participating in the pilot program.
“We need to prove the concept first,” said George Angelone, LSA executive director. “If it’s successful, it gives confidence you can do other things, other committee reports and other filings can be done electronically.”•