(Updated 5:16 p.m.) In an effort to save money the state legislature eliminated $626,000 in printing costs in its 2011 budget, but in the land of steady habits it’s what printing costs are being looked at for elimination that have some lawmakers, lawyers, and librarians, and lobbyists upset.
It’s not the $582,000 lawmakers spend on franking privileges that allows them to communicate by mail with their constituents, or the $86,500 spent on stationery. It’s the copies of bills, lists of bills, and bill booklets lawmakers, lobbyists, and the public can get a hold of while they’re in the building to testify at a committee hearing.
“So you’re going to get rid of the only reasonable method the public has for getting information,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said Tuesday.
He said his caucus proposed eliminating some printing, but what they were talking about were the bound copies of budgets, statutes, and public acts which collect dust in his office and offices around the building.
“In 18 years I don’t think I’ve ever looked at this crap,” Cafero said as he pointed to the shelves filled with bound copies of bills and legislation.
But D’Ann Mazzocca executive director of Legislative Management said it wasn’t her office’s decision, which printed costs get cut and which get funded. She said that decision was made during budget negotiations, which her office isn’t privy to.
Cafero, who was in those budget negotiations, doesn’t remember any specifics being discussed.
However, Rep. John Geragosian, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who was also intimately involved in budget negotiations said the language in the budget document specifies which printing services will be eliminated.
“Like the rest of the world we’re moving in the direction of becoming more paperless,” he said Tuesday.
Geragosian acknowledged some may be slow to embrace change and those that are will get to express themselves at a public hearing on Thursday.
The task force created to make recommendations about which printing costs legislative leaders should eliminate will hear public testimony on the issue Thursday.
Sen. Joseph Crisco Jr. of Woodbridge, who co-chairs the task force, said as far as he is concerned everything is still on the table.
“The die has not been cast,” Crisco said Tuesday in his office. “The last thing we want is to be pennywise and pound foolish.”
Ultimately the decision will be left up to the six legislative leaders. If they have respect for the task force they will take seriously our recommendations, Crisco said.
One of the cuts that’s already caught the ire of many lawyers is the elimination of transcripts of committee public hearings. The cut will save the state $215,000.
A lobbyist and lawyer, Raphael Podolsky, said in a letter to the task force that testimony before legislative committees is used by the court’s in determining legislative intent. He said a recent Supreme Court case quoted his own public hearing testimony in interpreting a mobile home park statute.
“As an experiment, I searched my name in WestLaw to find out how often my own public hearing testimony had been cited in judicial decisions. I got 17 hits, which consisted of 12 Supreme Court opinions, two Appellate Court opinions, and three trial court opinions,” Podolsky said. “I claim no bragging rights from this. It illustrates, however, the tip of a large iceberg.”
Mazzaco said that the public hearings will be made available online as audio files.
However, Podolsky argues that “short of sitting for hours and hours and listening to tapes, there is no way to use tapes for legislative history. The very purpose of the tape is so that it can be transcribed, filed, indexed, and made available to researchers.”
Kendall Wiggns, a state librarian who is tasked archiving legislative history, said in a letter to the task force in October that audio recordings without a transcript are “unusable for legal research or citation purposes.”
“There is currently no technology available that enables indexing of audio files to the level of detail needed to locate discussion on specific bills,” Wiggins wrote. He also wondered what legal standing those files will have if they have to be transcribed by another entity such as a law firm. He said it’s all but impossible to index an audio file to make it searchable for the various users of the collection.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Wiggins said he thinks before things proceed “everyone need to understand how these documents are used.”
Since many bills are passed on a consent calendar there are few records aside from the public hearing transcript available, Wiggins said. The state library has archived paper versions of the public hearing transcripts since 1911 and while Wiggins knows those documents are authentic, he wonders how he would certify an audio file.
Also the cost of storing these files can’t be ignored, Wiggins warned. “We don’t want to have a gap in the history of our state,” he said.
In addition to the lawyers and librarians, lobbyists are expressing concern over whether the Capitol complex, including the Legislative Office Building, can handle the increased demand on the General Assembly’s website.
Brooks Campion, president of the Association of Connecticut Lobbyists, said increasing the bandwidth in the building may be useful in helping to accommodate what is expected to be increased usage if many of the paper documents are eliminated.
At times the website has been down during peak demand times while the House and the Senate are in session. The outages generally don’t last long, but if it’s the only way to get information things could easily grind to a halt.
Mazzocca said it’s her understanding that the building has plenty of bandwidth and is able to accommodate the increased load the switch to electronic filing may cause.
Campion said the lobbyists are willing to come up with a cost-sharing proposal for some of the printing they would like to see continued. It’s unclear if Legislative Management would be willing to entertain such a proposal.
The task force public hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday in Room 2B of the Legislative Office Building.