Currently, the New York State Constitution dictates that Legislative bills must be printed out and on legislators’ desks for at least three days. At that point, they are typically tossed, unread and unopened, into the recycling bin. The whole process costs the state up to $53 million a year in paper, ink, printing, storage, and recycling costs.
It’s been a three-year ordeal to overturn this requirement, but the end is almost in sight. The 2011 Legislature had to vote on it, the 2013 Legislature had to vote on it, and the people will vote on it in the 2014 election. It is a bipartisan, across-the-state effort, featuring legislators from upstate New York to Staten Island. The legislators have been attempting to pass similar legislation since 1997, but have been running into roadblocks such as concerns that “the presence of computer screens might mar the historical aesthetics of the legislative chambers,” as well as protests by the New York paper lobby, reports the New York Times.
Printing up all the bills uses 19 million pieces of paper every two-year legislative session, reports the Times. Moreover, this is with the bills being printed eight legislative pages for every sheet of paper — which is almost too small to read, seldom is read, and is often recycled unread and unopened.
“Paper is, in many ways, the lifeblood of the New York State Capitol,” the Times writes. “Legislators whose parties are out of power have bemoaned being assigned rickety photocopiers that frequently break down. At critical moments, lawmakers can be found sprawled about the Capitol as they wait for printed bills to arrive; sometimes, when the three-day waiting period is waived, they vote on legislation that is still warm to the touch.”
Legislative officials estimated they spend $325,000 on paper and ink for the printing of bills during each two-year legislative term, and sent 1,677 tons of mixed paper to be recycled during the last fiscal year, the Times writes.
“In a typical six-month session, the Senate would produce up to 7,000 bills and the Assembly would produce as many as 15,000,” reports the AP. “Each would have to be printed out for 63 senators and staff and for 150 Assembly members and staff.”
Ironically, considering New York City’s prominent place in Internet development these days, New York State is behind the many other states that have already made the jump to paperless or other digital efforts. More than a dozen states have projects that give legislators tablets such as iPads, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
For example, Ohio has reportedly saved $1.5 million per year since its switch to paperless. Hawaii’s Senate launched a Paperless Initiative in 2008, which by 2011 reduced paper usage by 80 percent. “During the 2010 session, only 1.5 million pages were printed, compared to 8.3 million pages in 2007,” as well as saving half a million dollars in purchasing paper and copy machine expenses, reports the Legislature. The Hawaii House is now working on a similar initiative. And Florida’s Legislature has progressed from putting together legislation every year using a cut-and-paste method — literally, with actual scissors and actual paste — and hauling away several tractor trailers of paper every Legislative session.
To promote the legislation, New York legislators such as Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) have taken steps such as debating behind six-foot-tall stacks of paper, or posing for pictures standing on carts of recycling paper.
Perhaps when this is done, the New York Legislature can take on the buggywhip lobby, rescind the anti-pinball law, or tackle any of the other archaic legislations still on the books.
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