RICHMOND – Diane Seaborn jokingly refers to it as “hell week,” the week the General Assembly convenes and hundreds of bills come pouring in.
The result is some very long days for her staff, who are responsible for putting all the legislation online, as well as for the House and Senate clerks’ offices and the folks in the bill room, who spend hours printing and filing copies of every proposal.
Their job got a little easier this year, though, with the launch of an electronic filing system for legislation. Before now, delegates and senators had to file in paper.
Now they can accomplish that task with the click of a button.
The change means House Clerk G. Paul Nardo and Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar no longer arrive in their Capitol offices to find mountains of paper. Instead, they see a list of submitted bills online and can check, number and, in Schaar’s case, refer them to a committee, from almost anywhere.
It makes a big difference: the assembly files between 2,000 and 3,000 bills a session, the clerks said. Some are a page, others the size of a Harry Potter novel.
“It’s saving us a lot of paper,” Schaar said. “I would come in my office and have a stack of 200 bills, some of them 100 pages or more, sitting on my desk for me to wade through and refer. Now I just go online and do the referrals and never touch paper. I think it’s great.”
There are still some glitches that need working out, but the electronic filing seems to be working well so far, Nardo said. Lawmakers may still file in paper, though fewer are using that option.
As of this morning, legislators had submitted more than 1,530 bills and resolutions.
“This e-filing of legislation just kind of brings you into the 20th Century a little bit,” Nardo said. “Compared to what we were doing 15 to 20 years ago, there are probably forests that are there that probably wouldn’t have been.”
The clerks this year also began emailing, instead of faxing, bill information to Seaborn’s office, saving more time and paper. There she and her team ensure that all the correct information goes online, a task that took them into early this morning, clicking away at their computers in the General Assembly Building while listening to the State of the Commonwealth Address on TV and munching on clementine oranges, mini-muffins and candy to stay alert.
They’ll still be busy catching up today.
“It’s pretty high pressure,” Seaborn said. “We can’t just take our time with it, people want it as fast as possible, and we often will work late every year.”
But there are fewer late nights than before.
“We used to be here ’til 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning collating bills to go in their bill books,” Senate Clerk Schaar said. “Now they look at it on iPads. When I hear people saying, ‘Oh, it’s such a long day and I’m so tired,’ I laugh and go, ‘You don’t know what a long day is.’ ”
- Kathy Adams, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, 804-697-1563, firstname.lastname@example.org