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New York County Lawmakers Consider Overhaul of Legislative Records System

Conversations are underway in Albany County to make legislative information more accessible to the public through the purchase of new equipment and software.

(TNS) — ALBANY, N.Y. — How did your legislator vote on a proposal to reduce the size of the Albany County Legislature?

What legislation has been proposed to address the use of foam-based products?

County lawmakers want to put this information at residents’ fingertips by updating its technology to allow the public to easily search for bills and voting records of legislators online.

Through discussions in the legislature’s modernization task force – led by Guilderland Republican Mark Grimm and Albany Democrat Lynne Lekakis – officials want to spend $93,308 to purchase equipment and software to bring electronic voting and online searchable recordkeeping to the 39-member body.

Legislators want to modify an existing contract with Granicus to implement a “VoteCast” module that offers remote document access, a public and searchable legislative database, electronic voting and easy agenda creation, according to a resolution to be introduced at Monday’s regular meeting.

Granicus works with thousands of municipalities across the country providing local governments with cloud-based solutions for communications, meeting and agenda management and digital services.

“It is amazing and difficult to calculate just how much time will be saved by staff and legislators, but what is easy to calculate is the impact on interested citizens,” said Lekakis, a deputy majority leader. “Imagine being able to easily find information on a proposal that went out last year, or yesterday. It is time for us all to share in the positive technology of the 21st century.”

Lekakis said legislators would each have an iPad with which they’d access agenda items and supporting documents as well as vote on bills. A screen in legislative chambers would allow for those in attendance to see how each lawmaker votes. Attendance also would be kept through the iPad.

If someone wants to find out who reintroduced legislation to ban polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, they’ll be able to search a keyword and find the legislator who sponsored it and the details as well as discover where it’s at in the process. Officials hope archived material will also be looped in, allowing those interesting in the ban to find other bills on the topic.

Improving upon the 50-year-old legislature’s technology also is reflected in the changes proposed to the body’s rules coming out of the rules reform task force led by Selkirk Conservative Richard Mendick and Cohoes Democrat Gil Ethier.

Changes include updating the language to include electronic correspondence and records as well as further outlining how meetings, particularly public comment, will be run.

Members of the minority as well as many Democrats pledged that with the regime changes this year would also be reforms on how the legislature operates, bringing it into the 21st century and making things more accessible for the public.

“Communication today is about transparency and engagement,” Grimm said of the sought-after tech upgrades. “This comprehensive plan will make it much easier for citizens to understand and follow what we are doing and therefore more likely to become part of the discussion.”

©2018 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.