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Legislature's Computers

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Before computers, the North Dakota Legislature relied on massive bill books at their desks. Every day, Senate and House pages had to paste amendments onto the printed pages to update bills.

Computerization began gradually in 1989. The initial goal was to reduce paper. Four representatives and four senators had a $1,200 computer terminal to track bills, amendments, daily journals and calendars. They could also send email within the government. North Dakota was reportedly the first in the country to try computers in its legislative chambers.

In 1991, the number of computer terminals in the Legislature increased to 24, then to 50 in 1993. In 1995, each of the four caucuses had a “notebook personal computer” that cost $7,000 apiece. Later that year, the Legislature bought 60 notebook computers and leased another 15, for a total cost of a half a million dollars.

After the 1997 session, a panel of lawmakers began looking into acquiring computers for every member, each with a screen of at least 13 inches so lawmakers could see a split screen showing a bill and its amendments. On this date in 1998, The Bismarck Tribune reported that for the first time, all 147 members of the Legislature had the option of a portable computer to use in the upcoming session.

The new computers allowed lawmakers to track bills, get telephone messages, use email and access the Internet.

The new computers were portable and saved paper, postage and time. The new technology also reduced the number of legislative employees from 136 in 1993 to 92 in 1998 due to the lesser need for pages and bill book clerks. All but a few lawmakers began using the computers.

Throughout the decade of transition to computers, some lawmakers said the technology intimidated them or that they had little time to learn how to use the computers, though they had training sessions. Others recognized the value of the change. Some lawmakers quipped they wouldn’t run for office again if they had to use a computer. One representative had help from his wife to get the hang of it. We suspect others did, too. If not from their wife, perhaps from their kids!

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune. 1988, February 17. Page 11

The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, January 3. Page 17

The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, January 23. Page 12

The Bismarck Tribune. 1993, January 5. Page 11

The Bismarck Tribune. 1995, July 2. Page D1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1996, December 1. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1998, December 13. Page 2

Report of the North Dakota Legislative Council: Fifty-Sixth Legislative Assembly, 1999: https://www.legis.nd.gov/files/resource/55-1997/legislative-management-final-reports/1999finalreport.pdf

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