Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Caught in Web of Net Debates Control, Money Hold Up Access, Say Some

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Caught in Web of Net Debates Control, Money Hold Up Access, Say Some

Article excerpt

Dial up the Missouri Legislature's Internet web page, and you can get almost as much information as if you were right there in Jefferson City: state laws, pending bills with the latest changes, a state employee directory, even state job openings.

Dial Illinois' legislative web page, and you can get . . . well, pictures of a few state legislators.

Illinois may be the economic engine of the Midwest, but on the information highway, critics say, it's little more than a bump in the road. As one national trade organization put it in a recent study: "The Land of Lincoln still thinks it's the 1800s."

Legislative officials acknowledge they're behind in the computer race, but they say it's just a matter of technical difficulties.

"We're moving the Legislature as fast as we can into the computer age," said House Republican majority spokesman Mike Cys. "It takes time."

However, others fear the issue isn't technology, but control and money - control over public information and the money Illinois makes charging fees for materials that most states provide free through the Internet.

"It would solve a lot of problems, but they would lose income" from information sales, said lobbyist Deborah Miller of Hoffman Estates. "I think that's the tough nut."

The Illinois Legislature is one of only a handful in the country that don't offer any Internet access to statutes and pending legislation. Instead, the Illinois web page contains tourism information, descriptions of state agencies and short biographies and photos of a handful of lawmakers.

Missouri, by contrast, recently launched what is viewed as one of the nation's better state government web sites. Browsers can search, view and download state statutes, bills, committee information and just about everything else involved in the day-to-day operations of the state.

"Missouri has a good page. It lets the average person get in there and see what it's all about," said researcher Brett Diggs, who recently co-authored a study of web sites in all 50 states for the National Home Builders Association.

Diggs said Illinois' lightweight web page surprised him, "because it's not one of the smaller states in the country."

"I didn't linger long because, frankly," he said, "there wasn't much there."

Among The Bottom 8

Illinois' cyber-humiliation came to a head last month at a national conference in Washington. The conference catered to state-level lobbyists from around the country, and a major topic of discussion was Internet access to state legislatures.

The home builders' Internet study, released at the conference, scored each state based on access to statutes, updated bills and amendments, search programs and other criteria.

Missouri and 16 other states got perfect scores. But the web page for Illinois - the nation's sixth-largest state - ranked in the bottom eight in the nation, meeting none of the report's criteria.

Two states tied Illinois' zero score, and five had no web pages at all.

"It was embarrassing," said one Illinois lobbyist who attended the conference and asked not to be identified.

"You saw what all the other states were doing on the Internet . . . and that there's nothing going on in Illinois. The (seminar) presenters were laughing, saying Illinois is a joke."

Illinois legislation is stored on the state's Legislative Information System, an internal, "mainframe" computer system that provides free, updated access to lawmakers and state agencies. …

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