VIDEO: Kansas is leader in E-Democracy with new state legislature website

Rebecca Zepick / State of the State KS

While Kansas just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the state his past week, most people aren’t aware that in the basement of the State house in Topeka, Kansas is poised to be a leader in e-democracy through the legislature’s new website.

Most political watchers have noticed the state government’s website has changed and some have been frustrated by services that are not yet available, but Chief Information Technology Officer at the capitol, Don Heiman, says that the change was necessary because the state had been using the same mainframe website system since 1968.

“The person who built all this has retired and we don’t have anybody who knows how to handle the main frame and so when I took out those systems there was no data coming from those systems to populate that website,” said Heiman.

The current process for drafting legislation involves cutting out any changes to bills, taping the new language to the old copy and a laborious process of driving the bill to a printing shop and merging the language – all to have the new bill for legislators each day.

Heiman says the website should be running full speed in a week or two and that in the end, Kansas will have a website unlike any in the country.

He says that when people click on a link to a bill, they’ll see the video of committee testimony, find information on the fiscal note and a number other details about the the bill….all in one place on the website.

He says people will be able to plug in their address and see how a bill will effect funding for state programs in their neighborhood. Heiman says his goal is to give the public as much knowledge as legislators have at the capitol in real time.

“That website mimics the interface that legislators are using so the public sees the same interface that’s available to legislators. And that’s what allows us to refer to the application as an e-democracy application,” said Heiman.

Heiman coined the term e-democracy and says the new system will give historical context to the law and will help judges understand legislator’s intent when trying cases.

Heiman believes the added information will bring accountability and transparency that our state’s founders imagined when they created our state 150 years ago.