By: State Senator Jesse Hamilton
With the passage of a ballot measure allowing for electronic distribution of bills to legislators, the people of New York State took an important step towards bringing the legislature into the 21st Century. Legislators must carry the baton forward, taking steps to innovate in public service.
In recent years, the legislature has been making strides in this direction. For instance, the Open Data Portal has helped the public access a variety of New York State information, including up-to-the-minute information on which bills are under consideration. The legislature needs to further innovate and further incorporate information technology solutions into its work.
This innovation will allow the legislature to reach more New Yorkers. We need to open access even further to constituents who may be homebound or face disabilities. Anyone who may find the trek to the district office difficult will benefit from a more tech-savvy legislature.
District office staff are ready, willing, and able to get out into the field to serve constituents. Mobile offices present the opportunity of connecting with constituents where they live, work, and play. Tools that can help us get out of the office and into communities are already in widespread use in workplaces throughout the state.
We can aim to provide services in libraries, community centers, or even public parks. Tools as simple as laptops, tablets, mobile hotspots, and mobile copier/printer/scanners can help district offices both provide services to community members and better gather a picture of community members’ concerns.
Take the case for tablet computing. Tablets have revolutionized service delivery in a range of fields. It is time to bring that revolution to the legislature’s work. Tablets can allow for constituent services caseworkers to reach community members on their doorsteps. Given the pressing demands of the workaday world, not everyone is able to make an appointment with constituent caseworkers at a district office.
Anyone who still confronts the digital divide will benefit from legislative offices that work to bridge that gap. Policy-makers must keep in mind that not everyone is computer literate and not everyone has easy access to the internet. We need to proactively include those populations, hear their concerns, and draw them into our civic dialogue. By innovating, by equipping ourselves with commonly used tools, we can better serve the people of the state.
New York State rightly aims to be a hub for information technology. It’s time for the legislature to nurture and model the innovation we want to see flourish across all sectors in our state.
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