Drafting legislation on paper is arduous work. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, nearly 6,000 drafts and 2,000 bills move through the legislative process each year. Coordinating, scheduling and tracking this amount of paper is a tremendous task. Bill Wilson, director of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems (DLAS) for the Virginia General Assembly, found a better drafting solution in Lotus Notes.
Before the conversion to Notes in 1994, drafting bills on paper was a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. It started when an Assembly member asked for new or amended legislation. An attorney would research the legal issues involved, then draft the new language for the bill. When the draft was complete, it was sent to a centralized word processing facility for entry into the correct format. The document was printed, sent to proofreaders for corrections, then returned to the Assembly member for review. When additions or corrections were required, the bill drafting process was repeated.
In paper form, tracking and coordinating the numerous versions of each bill was a complex task. Computer operations staff stood by high-volume laser printers waiting to remove and sort the printed drafts. After collating the drafts, they bundled them into large custom-made file folders called shucks. Runners loaded the shucks onto mail carts and delivered them to the attorneys and proofreaders throughout the building. During the drafting process it was common for many versions of each bill to exist on paper. Version control was accomplished by the daily printing of status reports for each draft. Requests for status were often delayed while the staff searched for the draft or the status report. Being static, the reports were only accurate at the time they were printed.
The solution to the legislative paper chase was Lotus Notes. "In 1993, we ran 100 of our 2,000 bills through Lotus Notes and found it significantly enhanced the bill drafting process," said Wilson. During the following year, DLAS chose Notes to process the 6,000 drafts they create each year. All participants in the process now have access to the draft in realtime. Every draft moves between the drafters, attorneys and proofreaders without anyone leaving their desk. At the touch of a key, the status and location of each draft is readily available.
The Notes drafting process begins when a member of the General Assembly makes a request for legislation. A manager or staff member accepts the request with a brief description, then assigns it to a drafter. Using Windows, the drafter opens a Notes View related to the particular type of legislation requested. Using Word for Windows, the drafter creates a document within Notes. Folio Views retrieves the standard statutory language for pasting into the draft. Word for Windows provides the standard strike-through type styles required by the draft whenever wording is changed. When the draft is completed, it is assigned to the proofreaders.
Proofreaders obtain the document from the Notes server to check it for grammar and typographical errors. Whenever the document is revised, the changes appear in different colors. Each participant is assigned a color code for identification purposes. When complete, the proofreader returns the document to the drafter. At this point, the drafter obtains manager approval of the document. This final approval provides another set of eyes to ensure the member's requests are satisfied. The completed document is then printed, bound and given to the member. The bill is now ready for introduction by the member.
BENEFITS OF AUTOMATION
Groupware automation provides many benefits. Note's highly visible workflow reduces duplication of effort. For example, if two assembly members were independently working on similar bicycle helmet legislation, Notes makes this duplicated effort easier to identify. The staff examines each new request to determine if a similar request is currently in work.
Notes also provides a complete audit trail for every document. The status,