ATLANTA — Bills meant to reduce paper use in state government and to expand a state Web site already loaded with information about government spending and employee salaries will be a priority for top Senate leaders, they announced Monday.
“The Paper Reduction Act” in Senate Bill 388 would allow numerous state agencies to put dozens of different reports and other documents online instead of printing them on paper. More than 100 such items are laid out in the bill, and state Sen. Jim Butterworth, who is sponsoring the measure, said the state could save $7 million across six different agencies by implementing the legislation.
Butterworth, R-Clarksville, also is sponsoring Senate Bill 389, which expands the www.opengeorgia.gov Web site.
The site already lists private companies the government does business with and salaries for all state employees in searchable databases.
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But Butterworth’s bill would expand the site to include more information about spending in the state Legislature, the judicial branch and the use of federal money, which passes through state coffers by the billions each year.
“Right now it’s hard to track,” Butterworth said. “It’s very hard to track.”
Both bills won support Monday from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who heads the state Senate, as well as Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers.
Cagle ticked off millions of dollars that have been saved in the private sector by reducing paper use and said he wants Georgia to have “a 21st century government.” But he acknowledged the heavy paper use in the General Assembly itself. Lawmakers use so much paper during their annual legislative sessions that it’s become tradition to throw masses of it in the air as the session ends.
The celebration nearly coats the floors of the House and Senate chambers in multi-colored copies of bills, all of which are generally available online through the General Assembly’s Web site, www.legis.state.ga.us.
And on Monday, paper copies of Butterworth’s bills — printed on one side only — were given to reporters after Monday’s news conference, along with a two-page news release all together in a blue paper folder.
Cagle said weaning state government from so much paper usage is a slow process, and “you don’t turn the ship around overnight.”
“Can we do a better job on the Senate floor?” he asked. “Absolutely we can.”
House and Senate leaders have said transparency is a top priority for them this session, but that doesn’t mean they’re likely to expand the Georgia open records and meetings acts. Though House and Senate meetings, all the way down to the subcommittee level, are generally open to the public and often are broadcast online, the courts have nonetheless held that the General Assembly itself is not subject to the acts.
That means legislators can withhold correspondence and other documents that, if they were a county commissioner or city council member, for example, would be public documents under state law.
Rogers, R-Woodstock, said Monday that “everything we do here ought to be in the open,” but he stopped well short of calling for an end to the General Assembly’s exemption in the law.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.