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Indiana legislative panel endorses test of iPads

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An Indiana legislative panel endorsed a pilot program Monday that would equip two General Assembly committees with iPads in the upcoming session as part of a push to cut the amount of paper used to print copies of bills for lawmakers.

The Legislative Council's data-processing subcommittee voted 3-0 Monday to endorse a report asking the full council to embrace the pilot iPad project. The 16-member council will consider that and other suggested technology upgrade recommendations at its Nov. 21 meeting.

Republican Sen. Brandt Hershman of Lafayette, who chairs the panel, said it heard compelling testimony Monday that about 250 pounds of paper is printed out for each of Indiana's 150 lawmakers each session in the form of various versions of bills and amendments.

Research by a Ball State University technology expert who testified before the panel also concluded that on average 11,400 pages are printed for each bill considered by lawmakers as the legislation meanders through the process.

Hershman said using iPads to review bills downloaded from a legislative website holds the potential to boost efficiency and cut down on printing costs. He said it's unclear how much those savings might ultimately be.

"We may be on a path toward becoming a leader in this process of going totally paperless, toward total adoption, but that's yet to be determined," Hershman said after Monday's meeting.

He said he's going to recommend that the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee adopt iPads for the pilot project. Hershman said the House Education committee could be the pilot committee in the House if the council approves the project.

All 100 of Indiana's House members and its 50 state senators are already assigned a laptop for use in their legislative duties. Hershman said he knows of only one lawmaker, whom he declined to name, who does not use their laptop.

The subcommittee's four members each received iPads earlier this year and have spent several months using the popular Apple tablet to determine how easy they are to use.

Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, a Bloomington Democrat who's on the subcommittee, said that although she had some learning to do when she received her iPad, she now uses it considerably more than she does her state-issued laptop.

"It's a different keyboard. There's a little different feel to it. But as someone who doesn't do computers very well, I just love it. And the more I learn about it the easier it gets," she said.

Simpson said that as bills are discussed during legislative hearings she marks any changes into papers copies of those bills, along with questions she has about those measures. Sometimes, she misplaces her marked-up copies of bills and regrets when that happens.

But Simpson said she's been assured that adopting iPads will make it far easier for lawmakers to make such changes on digital versions of each bill without the risk of losing them. She also believes that if she and her colleagues do embrace iPads, the change will simplify the legislative process and make updated bills more quickly available to the public.

"Right now it's just so complicated: There's so many changes and so much paper that you have to get. But this could simplify things for the public as well as for us," she said.

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