NY referendum proposes an end to stacks of bills on the desks of legislators

If New York voters approve proposition No. 2 on the ballot next week, their 213 legislators will join the digital age. Their desks in the ornate chambers of the Capitol will have computers instead of thick stacks of bills.

Many other states have already made such efforts, but New York's change has required a number of hurdles because its constitution requires bills to be "printed and upon the desks" of lawmakers for three days before they can be passed.

The change is expected to save millions of dollars in printing, many trees and landfill space. But there are concerns, including ensuring nobody is posting on Facebook or playing digital poker when they're supposed to be making laws.

Assemblyman James Tedisco, a Schenectady Republican who has been calling publicly for the change for four years, believes they'll equip the desks with keypads and computer tablets that legislators can pick up to show colleagues what they're looking at.

"Everybody will have one. It's a one-time expense. Hopefully they'll be there a good long time," Tedisco said. Printing will remain an option for those who want a paper copy of a bill. Lawmakers now get on average 17,000 bills a year, printed centrally for the Assembly and Senate, and copies placed on all 213 desks, he said.

The three-day "aging" period will continue, with certain exceptions when the governor sends messages of necessity calling for fast votes.

Spokesmen for the Assembly and Senate majorities said Tuesday there have been discussions about the change, but cautioned the referendum is next week. They declined to discuss specifics.

"We're working on an implementation plan," said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "We'll see when the law passes."

Mark Hansen, spokesman for Republican Sen. Dean Skelos, co-leader of that chamber, said the referendum doesn't set a date so if approved it might not be done when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Whatever technology is chosen, it will be restricted to legislative business, he said.

Whyland noted that the ballot measure would authorize the switch from paper to computerized legislation, but doesn't require it. He added that they may need to have a backup plan for paper copies in case the computers crash.