Legislature. He was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Texas legislative service, which makes texts of bills available within 24 hours of their introduction. “If you want historical information, you have to go to the library but if you want contemporary information, it’s available online,” he said. “In the past, if you wanted to do an analysis of legislation, by the time you got all the information together that you needed, the session was over. There’s a lag time between printing, sending it out to the libraries, the arrival and processing so it could take weeks before it reaches the stacks.” 5 INCE THE LEGISLATIVE Council proceeded with the legislative online service largely on the initiative of the House Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor, State Rep. Debra Danburg, a Houston Democrat, has filed House Bill 1249 to clarify that the council had the authority to She said has not heard much feedback from fellow legislators, some of whom have learned to use the laptop computers at each desk in the House Chamber. “I’m not sure that many of them are aware [of the system], but my district has a lot of people who are involved in high-tech and they really appreciate it,” she said. “In past sessions we’ve had people calling several times a week to keep track of bills, so if we can get them to dial up the legislative server it will cut down on staff work.” Another bill that would affect access to state government information is Senator Peggy Rosson’s Senate Bill 734, which would create an Information Access Advisory Council that during the next interim would study a number of issues relating to information access, including the feasibility of making more electronic information available while preserving confidentiality and ensuring access of rural and disabled residents to online services. It and a second bill yet to be filed would implement Sharp’s recommendations that the Legislature establish policies and goals for electronic delivery of government information and services. Another measure, SCR 75, would direct agencies to provide fiscal information as well. Rosson, an El Paso Democrat, said her interest in putting the state agencies onlineparticularly in opening up fiscal informationhad something to do with the ongoing concern that El Paso was being shortchanged in state appropriations. When a court of inquiry called by an El Paso state district judge this past year asked for breakdown of state allocations, the form in which the information was available was “not easily digestible,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is simplify that.” Rural access to on-line services also is a factor in the telecommunications section of the Public Utility Commission Sunset Bill. “We want to make sure the infrastructure in rural Texas as well as he central core has the capacity for high-speed data transmission,” she said. In many areas of the state lines and switches have not been upgraded to high-tech specifications. “I believe in open government and I think that as our citizenry becomes more sophisticated and more interested in what’s going on, they have a right to get access to it in the most convenient way,” she said. That includes those who are outside population centers. State Rep. Scott Hochberg, Democrat from Houston, another early promoter of the legislative online service, said the process has gone smoother than many expected. “If you compare with what’s available in the other states, I take a lot of pride in knowing that our system is the best,” he said. “Kay Huffman and the others at the Legislative Council deserve a lot of credit for that. It is the most accessible, most informative system of all those that I have seen and I have looked at all the others.” The next step is to make the Texas Register and administrative codes available and to wire every public library in Texas. “Libraries have to be in that loop because that’s where the public gets access,” he said. “It’s not a perfect system. It doesn’t put the Leg. islature in everybody’s home, but for a lot of people it’s a lot easier to get information.” He looks forward to people following the Legislature directly on the ‘Net, without the filter of the press. “The more people who see the actual legislation that’s out there and also see how a bill evolves, I think there will be better understanding and people will be better able to provide us the information that we need to make decisions up here, because a lot of time we made decisions in a real vacuum of public input.” David Smith, president of the Austin chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundapression in cyberspace, said he also was impressed with the state’s approach. “Not only did it have the information on line but the goal is to create a context for that information,” which he said is more ambitious than the Congressional approach. “The Feds just dump it online,” he said. S O WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? If legislators implicitly accept the on line access to legislative information, Edward Cavazos, a Houston lawyer who specializes in computer issues, said it is only a matter of time before their thoughts turn to regulating electronic communication. Congress already is considerout of the seeming anarchy and innuendo that has marked the Internet so far. A Congressional bill that could dramatically restrict freedom of expression on the Internet is S 314, the Communications Decency Act of 1995, sponsored by Senator James Exon, Democrat from Nebraska. The bill would place criminal liability on telecommunications service providers \(including telephone networks, commercial online services, the Internet, and indepenwork is used in the transmission of any messages found to be indecent, lewd, threatening or harassing. The legislation is identical to an amendment Exon attached to a telecommunications bill that died last year. Exon’s measure would compel service providers to . choose between severely restricting the activities of their subscribers or completely shutting down their email, Internet access and conferencing services under the threat of criminal liability. \(A companion bill in the House is HR 1004, introduced by Rep. Tim Johnson, Democrat from South Dakota. It was referred to the House ComThe Exon approach raises obvious First Amendment problems as well as practical problems of trying to regulate communication on the Internet. U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution requires that any abridgement of speech use the least restrictive means available. The American Civil Liberties Union stated “the language of the Exon proposal is clearly the most restrictive because it sweeps broadly against a wide array of protected material involving sexual expression.” The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is expected to hear the bill in March. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican from Texas, is a member of that committee and can be reached by phone at 202-224-5922, by fax at 202-224-0776 or by e-mail at senator @ hutchison.senate.gov . Cavazos said he would not be surprised if a legislator came up with a similar bill at the state level, attempting to regulate offensive messages that might not be covered by the federal law. “It’s got all the magic buzzwords: They can position themselves as anti-pornography and the media has portrayed the ‘Net as a porno ring anyway and you can find corners that are like that but the problem is that the solution they propose really would shut down communication. When I send a message from Houston to Austin, it may get transferred through New York and California before it finally gets to your email box in Austin. If you expose every point down the path to liability, well nobody wants to expose themselves to liability and so the lines of communication will die.” Another case that has drawn interest is that of Jake Baker, a University of Michigan student who posted an article to the alt.sex.stories newsgroup that used the name of a classmate in a fantasized bnital 6 MARCH 10, 1995
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