The task force in charge of assessing which documents the legislature should stop printing in order to save $626,000 concluded its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 14 after forwarding close to 40 recommendations to legislative leaders.

The first item on the agenda was restoration of public hearing transcription.

It will cost $215,000 to restore the transcription of all public hearings, but the task force received a tremendous amount of testimony regarding the importance of the transcribed documents especially to judges.

Raphael Podolsky told the task force in November that he thinks it’s a “terrible mistake” to discontinue the transcription of committee public hearings.

He said public hearing transcripts are extremely important when the courts look at legislative intent. As the legislature begins to rely more often on consent calendars and less on debate in both chambers, the public hearing transcripts are even more important than they were a few years ago.

He said trying to put hours and hours of audio online just doesn’t work because “there’s no way to search a recorded tape.”

The $215,000 cost is related to the actual transcription service since the transcripts are uploaded to the legislature’s website.

And while there was an outpouring of support to maintain the transcription of public hearings, there was little or no testimony regarding the $582,000 spent on weekly and bi-annual district wide mailers lawmakers send to their constituents.

The task force by a voice vote decided not to recommend eliminating or reducing any of lawmakers franking privileges at its final meeting.

In the end the task force added back more printing costs than it eliminated, even though none of the members were able to put a total price tag on it.

The $626,000 in cuts to printing costs were in this year’s fiscal budget so a decision by legislative leaders about whether to restore some of the printing will need to be made soon.

D’Ann Mazzocca, executive director of legislative management, said two weeks ago that if she isn’t given any direction she will be instructing her staff to go forward with the cuts that were in the budget.

State Librarian Kendall Wiggin said the transcript issue needs to be resolved before the start of the legislative session so work on them doesn’t get backed up.

“The leaders would need to give us direction,” Mazzocca said.

Asked where Legislative Management would find $626,000 in savings, Mazzocca said her department is always looking for savings. “We’ll take the recommendations under advisement, but we won’t be doing anything until they tell us to,” she added.

“I think we’re on the right track with maintaining the printing of public hearing transcripts, which are a vitally important means of documenting legislative intent,“ Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said Thursday. “As for the remainder of the recommendations, we’re going to have to examine those.”

Looney and other Democratic and Republican leaders will be meeting soon to talk about which recommendations they will accept. In the meantime, the House Democratic caucus said it will voluntarily implement an electronic letterhead program in an effort to cut down on the cost of printed letterhead.

The task force is expected to meet again on Jan. 3, two days before the start of the legislative session, to adopt its final recommendations. Meanwhile, it has asked legislative staff to present its draft report to leaders.

Click here and here to read our previous reports on the subject.

And here to read the Office of Legislative Research report on how other legislature’s have handled the transition to electronic documents.