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Paperweight: Kansas Legislature stays low-tech in digital age

By   /   January 29, 2013  /   3 Comments

DROWNING IN PAPER: While state lawmakers have tried implementing paperless committees, many simply chose to print out materials back in their office after being given digital files.

 

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — The Kansas Capitol is a conduit for digital information, but some apparently missed the memo.

Must have gotten lost in all that paperwork.

Lawmakers and their staffs send bills electronically. They correspond via email and instant messages, tweeting and posting news instantaneously. Yet these same technofiles spend some $478,000 annually in taxpayer money on, uh, paper.

They spend so much, in fact, the state could buy a Google Nexus 7 tablet for every elected official, with an extra 2,200 of the devices to hand-out or rent as-needed.

Won’t happen, says Jeff Russell, director of Legislative Services.

The annual legislative printing bill includes materials, printing and labor costs, which is down from about $750,000 several years ago.

But still …

Legislative bills make up the bulk of the expense, Russell said, followed by daily calendar booklets for the state House and Senate. But while bills may at least gather dust in a drawer for the duration of a legislative session, the calendar booklets have a much shorter lifespan — measured in days, if not hours.

Stop by the document room in the bowels of the Capitol and step back in time, to a day when paper reigned and the smallest computers encompassed rooms the size of a football field.

Visitors are greeted with stacks upon stacks of small booklets detailing the daily agendas of lawmakers in both legislative chambers.

The same information is available online. Just Google it.

Russell couldn’t say just how much of this outdated paperwork is trashed — or recycled — each day, but it’s hard to believe  it’s kept around for sentimental reasons.

Chris Simons, deputy director of Facilities and Property Management, doesn’t have the answer. Waste and recycling contractor Deffenbaugh Industries handles the job.

It’s supposed to, anyway.

Kansas Watchdog contacted Deffenbaugh vice president Tom Coffman about Capitol recycling statistics, but Coffman did not respond to the request.

Russell said the paper is more important to lobbyists, media and other Capitol visitors than it is to lawmakers.

“What I never want to do is run out of information that people need to attend a hearing that day,” Russell said.

Google it?

The state has not yet devised a practical distribution system for those not directly plugged-in to the Capitol’s network. After all, he noted, it’s barely practical for the Capitol itself.

The Legislature has experimented with paperless committees in the past but has met with little success.

“I do find as soon as those committees are over with people are scrambling back to their printers and their offices and printing out a lot of what was paperless,” Russell said.

And though it has gotten better as younger legislators begin to populate the chambers, the technological adoption rate has proven difficult. The state introduced laptops to legislators about a decade ago, he said, but “a lot of them simply used them as paperweights. They were literally afraid of the things.”

Salina Republican and freshman Rep. J.R. Claeys said while the fear hasn’t completely subsided, older lawmakers are settling in with new forms of technology. Most of the aversion was due to transparency concerns and proper use of technology rather than the device itself, he added. And while Russell may have doubts about a paperless future for the Capitol, Claeys said he sincerely hopes it becomes a reality.

“The amount of paper that I find on my desk, and the amount that ends in my wastebasket is criminal,” Claeys said. “The amount of printing is obscene, and it’s wasteful.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steinert.brandon Brandon Steinert

    Yes – frustrating to those of us who are ready to do away with paper completely… and DVDs and other physical media, for that matter!

  • I.F.F.O.C. & K.C.E.A.J.

    Independent Federal Fund Oversight Committee

    Kansas Citizens for Equal Access to Justice

    Kansas is way behind technology for the 21st Century, such as 1). having a public notice web-site for public notices, instead of putting it in newspapers all over Kansas. This would save trees. 2). The HALO program, (High Activity Low Observation) for high crime neighborhoods. This is using private security monitoring high digital, as well as, inferred cameras placed on telephone poles, in which records criminal acts and then calls the local police or sheriff department, once the crime is in progress. 3). Highway alert, in which mile marker posts would flash like an airport runway, either yellow or red, to warn those on the highway of fog, or traffic jam, to slow down or stop, due to traffic problems ahead.

  • whosrunningthisplace

    Pretty much indicts the mentality and mindset of the 18th century demagogues running the Pope’s Topeka Theocracy! No shock factor here! Just more proof that all the rhetoric about waste to the taxpayer is just a campaign slogan and excuse to kill programs to help those most disadvantaged!

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