New York Legislature Backs Plan to Go Paperless

In June, legislators in New York gave final approval to allow bills to be published electronically rather than printed and placed on each member's desk for consideration. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the legislature uses up to 19 million pages a year printing full texts of all published bills. The move, hailed by supporters as a way to reduce solid waste and improve conservation, still has procedural hurdles to meet because the state constitution must be altered to accommodate the change.

Many states have already taken steps to reduce paper usage or embrace paperless plans as legislators and the rest of the public embrace tablets and wireless devices for their work. Hawaii, for example, has reduced its paper consumption by 85% since 2007 where previous annual sessions would consume enough paper equivalent to about 1,000 mature trees. Nationwide, the country consumes about 122 billion sheets of paper or roughly 400 sheets per man, woman, and child.

As with most decisions in politics, there is catch before New York's paperless plan can go into effect. A provision in the state's constitution requires that bills “shall have been printed and upon the desks of the members” for three days before any votes can be taken. Thus, a constitutional amendment must be put on the ballot next year and approved by voters before the plan can move forward. In the meantime, the legislature will continue to pursue efforts to minimize paper consumption where they can but the large stacks of complex bills and budget proposals will remain stacked around their desks and offices. Assemblyman James Tedisco was quoted in the Times piece saying, “It’s on our desk, it’s underneath our desk, it’s in our desk, it’s in the hallways, it’s in the document rooms — we’re surrounded by paper.”  CSG's Vice Chair Sen. Carl Marcellino, a strong supporter of the legislation, noted that one week of session work can generate a stack of paper six feet tall. He went on to say in an AP article, ""We level whole forests on a weekly basis...And half the time when we're sitting around here, we're waiting for something to be printed and distributed." Officials within the New York Legislature estimated they spend $325,000 on paper and ink for the printing of bills during each legislative session and in the last fiscal year alone the state government had to recycle 1,677 tons of mixed paper.