by Pam Greenberg
A single bill in the Indiana General Assembly generates about 11,400 sheets of paper, weighing 45.6 lbs. and creating a 3.8 foot stack of paper—that's the equivalent of 1.386 trees! That finding from a new study was one factor in a decision by a subcommittee of the legislature to recommend a pilot project to use iPads during the 2012 session.
Indiana’s Legislative Council Data Processing Subcommittee heard testimony earlier this week about using iPads and other technology to help in the transition to a "paperless" legislature. An in-depth report prepared for the committee by staff of the Legislative Services Agency provides detailed information that should be helpful to other states looking at implementing tablets in the legislature or moving toward a more paperless process.
Some of the findings, such as technical issues and readiness to adopt tablet technology, are specific to Indiana, but the information offered and issues identified are a useful outline of what needs to be considered beyond the simple purchase of an iPad.
Members of the subcommittee were concerned with possible savings and efficiencies from using tablets, so they also asked the Department of Emerging Technologies at Ball State University to study the flow of paper throughout the Indiana legislative process. The study also asked several key questions—“How is paper used in the Legislature?,” "How would technology impact the process?" and “Why do you print”—which helped focus on the important issues to be addressed.
The Subcommittee adopted the report’s recommendation for a pilot project for the 2012 legislative session. When approved by the full Legislative Council, members of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee and the House Education Committee will receive iPads with complete committee packets—bills, fiscal notes, and amendments—instead of paper copies. Members of the public will also be able to access the committee packets online, addressing Subcommittee Chairperson Brandt Hershman's concern with making sure the legislative process is transparent and accessible to the public.
The report also recommends that the General Assembly continue its practice of assisting legislators with privately-owned tablet devices, increase wireless capacity within the State House, optimize the General Assembly’s website for mobile devices, and add the capacity to stream live video of legislative meetings to iPads and other mobile devices.
In addition to the committee pilot project, the report recommends making a custom web page available to committee members to allow easy access to legislative information, identifying additional legislative activities that could be converted to paperless processes, and considering House and Senate rules changes in 2013 to permit greater use of electronic documents.
Indiana joins numerous other states, including West Virginia and Virginia, that are looking for ways that new consumer devices can help save costs and improve efficiency.