ALBANY -- After years of debate and after much of the rest of the world and some other states went paperless, the New York Legislature is on the cusp of going digital.
Lawmakers quietly approved a bill last week to go paperless. It will save the state the $13 million-a-year cost of printing bills that can be a couple feet thick for each of 213 legislators and their staff, most of whom won't read a word of the vast majority of measures before the reams are dumped, still bundled in twine, into recycling bins.
Hauling away the paper for recycling costs New York taxpayers as much as another $40 million a year, said Assemb. James Tedisco (R-Glenville). He's the longtime sponsor of the measure who persisted despite years of laughs and ridicule as dozens of patronage jobs were protected.
"It's common sense, and embarrassment," Tedisco said of his long fight. But not so fast. Voters will have to approve the dull-edged measure in a referendum to change the 200-year old constitution. And not until next year.
For years, Tedisco piled columns of papers 3 feet thick on his Assembly desk to make his point, arguing as only his eyes appeared above the pile. When handcarts loaded with papers rumbled down the Capitol halls, he'd snap a photo and post it on Facebook. He went on TV, radio and regularly harangued reporters to do stories.
"We could have been the No. 1 destroyer of Mother Earth's forests," said Tedisco, an upstate Republican.
State legislatures have been experimenting with putting documents online for lawmakers and to increase public access, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The trend has increased in hard fiscal times during which states are faced with millions of dollars in costs for printing, hauling and recycling the mountains of paper.
A typical week of New York's legislative session would produce enough paper to stand over 6 feet high, said state Sen. Carl Marcellino. 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. Each would have to be printed out for 63 senators and staff and for 150 Assembly members and staff.
"We level whole forests on a weekly basis," said Marcellino, a Long Island Republican.