Computers for senators in hearings? What would people think?

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January 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

The Legislature began debate Wednesday with a discussion of replacing paperwork with computers. But the idea got hung up over questions of how the public would react to senators staring at their devices, instead of the people who come to talk to them.

Right now, senators generally don't use laptops or other computers during legislative hearings. Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, chairman of the Rules Committee, says the result is a huge waste of paper.

Lautenbaugh said that waste could be eliminated if people who come to testify submitted any written information electronically so senators could call it up on their computers. But a number of senators objected to the perception that could create.

Among those objecting was Sen. Greg Adams of York, age 59, who said he was speaking for the "old codger" in him. Adams declared "There is sanctity in that public hearing room during a public hearing. And whether we like it or not - whether we're bored stiff, whether we disagree with the testifier - we owe it to them whether they came from Scottsbluff or south Lincoln to hear em out. To hear them out, and not have that computer screen up in front of us."

But others, including Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, who's 30, said paper could be just as distracting. "I know when I get books handed to me in the committee room, I'm reading them, looking through them, highlighting things, trying to listen at the same time, but when agencies come forward to Appropriations to give us their annual report, there's stuff in there I want to look and see and maybe question them on," he said. "And then a computer can do that just the same. So I don't understand why we think that a computer or some other piece of technology is automatically distracting and takes away from the process. It doesn't. It's about how you use it."

Lautenbaugh said the proposed rule requiring electronic submission of documents could be modified to require only lobbyists and state agency personnel to submit their testimony electronically. But he said the proposed rule change was not ready for a vote, and asked that it be withdrawn for further study.

Another proposed rule change was also withdrawn. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist had proposed having senators vote in public for who get the powerful post of committee chair. Opponents said that would erode the nonpartisan nature of the Legislature, where people are supposed to be elected on grounds other than party affiliation.

Krist said his goal was greater accountability, not more partisanship, and the partisanship already plays a role in the Legislature. But after only brief debate, he withdrew his proposal.

Now that lawmakers have begun debate, one of the first controversial bills discussed will be a requirement for voter identification, which could come up as early as next week. Meanwhile, Gov. Dave Heineman will deliver his State of the State speech in the legislative chamber Thursday.

NET Radio will broadcast the governor's speech live at 10 a.m. Central. It will also be televised on NET-2 as part of our daily gavel-to-gavel coverage, and streamed live on our website, netnebraska.org/publicmedia/capitol.html

 

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