News analysis:
Internet Users in Silver State Get
Tie-In to New Legislative System

   By Steve Miller
  
copyright 1997, Electric Nevada

It could be one of the biggest stories in the history of Nevada. But it doesn't even seem to be registering with most of the mainline media.
News reports so far on the 1997 Nevada Legislature's extensive new computer system have focused on the 'cool' laptop computers lawmakers will carry around the new Legislative building in Carson City.
Or the stories have fretted about ways the system's email capacity might let legislators violate state public meeting laws.
But any web-savvy, politically interested Nevadan who looks carefully at the Nevada Legislature's new web site -- at
http://www.leg.state.nv.us -- will start to see that Nevada is on the verge of a whole new era in self-government.
The fact is, law-making in Nevada, suddenly, is coming right into your home and office.
All at once, every Internet-connected Nevadan -- at least, in between any system crashes of the new system at the Capitol -- can have a virtual ring-side seat at, and input into, the crafting of the laws that govern us all.
Because it's not only members of the state Assembly and Senate who are getting a hefty new computer system. The Nevada public will be getting it, too -- on the Internet.
What was, in the past, an essentially private, subscription-based, dial-up



subscription-based, dial-up network, is now going to be available to all, via the Legislature's Internet web site, says Ron Nichols, information services manager for the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
The same information that Nevada legislators and their support staff will be looking at, he says, "will be downloaded to the Internet server as well."
"So if we're talking about Senate Bill 123, [legislators] can pull up the bill text, right on line -- just as you could if you're on the Internet.
"[And] if you're talking about ... what's going to happen tomorrow in Senate Finance, [lawmakers] can pull up an agenda, just like you can on the Internet..."
The Internet site, parallel to the server behind the lawmakers' laptops, says Nichols, will immediately report all the bills that have been introduced, the status of each, the daily agendas for the different committees, certain Nevada Revised Statutes, the email addresses for all members of the Legislature, and more.
State Senator Bill O'Donnell, Republican of Las Vegas, acknowledges that what the 1995 Legislature did, in authorizing automation of the legislative


 
system, was to open what "eventually ... will be a barn door" for Nevadans interested in their government.
O'Donnell, a computer business owner, says he's excited about the new approach.
"There is no doubt in my mind that bringing the hearing process to the home of the people will make for better laws," he says.
The Nevada Legislature's new system -- still being completed during the last days before the session's scheduled Monday start -- is being constructed and assembled by Pythia Corporation of Indianapolis.
"There are essentially four components to what we're doing," said Vice President for Development Paul Manzullo.
"One of them is called the 'Chamber Automation System [CHASY],' and that is the laptops.
"Another part of the system is called the 'Front Desk,' [which is] our session automation system.
"Another piece is called 'Bill Drafting,'" which the Legislative Counsel Bureau uses.
"And there's a fourth piece called 'Voting,' ... which is essentially an electro-mechanical interface to our software which is run in the [legislative] chambers. Voting controls the microphones, and the buttons on peoples' desk, and the tape recorder, and so on."



Manzullo says all four parts work together.
"One would use Bill Drafting to create drafts of documents, which would be introduced into our Front Desk, our session automation," he said. "Once they were introduced there, they would become bills, [then] once they were bills, they would become available and visible on the CHASY system. As they went through the process -- i.e., votes were taken, motions were made, readings occurred, etc. -- the bill's status would also appear on the CHASY system."
Where does the connection make its connection to the Internet?
"The Internet will come out of CHASY -- the chamber automation system," said Manzullo.
"In other words, bill status would be available, through the Internet, as well as any introduced bill, as well as amendments to bills, and the enrolling and engrossing process would occur."
Nichols said about 105 laptops were purchased -- 65 especially hardy Panasonics with touch screens (63 for 63 legislators, and two for spares)


 -- and about 40 non-touch-screen machines for the legislative support staff.
All the laptops receive their updates of new information by automatic radio frequency downloads.
"When they turn their machine on and hit their CHASY button," said Manzullo, the machines "immediately go into a download. The CHASY software is smart enough to know what [the lawmakers or staffers] have locally and what they don't, and whether they have the latest version, and it does a refresh, based on that."
Pythia president Vasilis
Koulolias, talking from Indianapolis Saturday morning, said the automatic downloads and the touch screens are important for getting many lawmakers over their initial hump
"We have found through our experience -- we have done this in several states as well -- that the easier you make it for the legislators, the more likely that they will use the system," he said.
"And in the case of many legislators,




they are not very familiar with the keyboard where everything is laid out. The system is designed in a way that a touch screen ATM machine that a touch screen ATM machine would work. Instead of getting [currency].. out of [it]... you get bills. So you just kind of push a thing that says 'Bills'; you write down the bill that you want, and you get it. It's as simple as that."
Security for the system is solid, he said.
"There are two elements that come into play. One -- to get into the network, you need to have identification, you need to have passwords.
"And number two [is] what we call direct sequence coding. That means that there are different noises that are there from one signal -- from the transmitter to receiver, okay? -- that only this system can translate."
Koulolias says Nevada's new system is the most sophisticated chamber automation system Pythia Corp. has developed.
The company can be reached on the Web at
http://www.pythianet.com .


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