State legislatures are installing computers on members' desktops to bring quicker access to information.

May 1995

Level of govt: State

Function: Legislation

Problem/Situation: Legislators need quick access to information while considering legislation.

Solution: Some states have outfitted chambers with laptops and established networks.

Jurisdiction: California, Texas, Michigan.

Vendors: IBM, NEC, Dell.

Contact: Texas Legislative Council 512/463-1160.

The wheels of lawmaking sometimes spin faster than a legislature's photocopy machines can churn out bill amendments or rewrites. And for legislators embroiled in floor debate, manual distribution strangles the flow of information even further. Amendments -- used by lawmakers to adjust legislation to gain legislative support or negate the potential law's effectiveness -- are often introduced during floor debate and just before a vote. Knowing the amendment language -- which is sometimes pages long -- and how it fits with the entire bill in question, is a challenge legislators are beginning to address with the help of networks and laptop computers installed in statehouse chambers. The Michigan Senate has been wired for about five years, while Texas and California installed laptops as the current session began in January.

TEXAS AMENDMENTS

Texas, which is finishing a Capitol restoration project, wired the House of Representatives and issued laptop computers for use at legislator desks in the chambers. Amendment text is scanned and bar coded by a floor clerk, and the information is stored on two file servers connected to both the chamber network and the rest of the Capitol. Dell Latitude laptops running OS/2 are attached to members