Software AG helps N.D. lawmakers

During late-night debates or heated committee hearings, state legislators in North Dakota can use a new system to keep track of the latest bill amendments.

The browser-based system called the Legislative Automated Work Station also gives the public a chance to read pending bills without traveling to the state capitol in Bismarck.

The North Dakota Legislative Assembly meets only once every two years, with its next session scheduled for January 2005. The legislature handles 1,000 to 1,200 bills in a three-month session, said Rep. Rick Berg, the House majority leader.

Over the last decade, state IT officials have phased in LAWS for both houses of the legislature, and every year more legislators use notebook PCs, Berg said.

"I just can't imagine us going back to anything else," he said.

LAWS incorporates the text of proposed amendments into the text of the bill, so that lawmakers can see the language of the amendments in the context of the legislation, Berg said.

Amendments generally originate in one of the legislative committees. Without LAWS, before the full chamber voted on the amendments, there would be a day's delay while the amendments were printed and inserted as pieces of different-colored paper sticking out of the bill books, Berg said. Now the bill drafts appear quickly in Portable Document Format with the text of the amendments underlined.

LAWS was built with applications from Software AG Inc. USA of Reston, Va., including the EntireX Communicator data integration tool.

Before the legislature started using LAWS, it used Software AG's Adabas database to store legislation and other applications built with the company's Natural language to access and manage legislation.

Adabas still powers the back end of LAWS, said Bill Ruh, Software AG's chief technical officer. The North Dakota software development team built the front end and Web-enabled the business logic.

Software AG worked closely with the North Dakota IT staff, Ruh said. After they were trained on EntireX Communicator, they were able to build the system themselves.

North Dakota's part-time citizen legislators can use their state-owned notebook computers all year long to conduct official business, and the state provides them with either dial-up Internet access or a virtual private network, Glatt said.

North Dakota's LAWS simultaneously preserves the state's investment in its legacy systems and gets more out of them, Ruh said.

Berg, the House majority leader, said he could not think of any way to improve LAWS.

"This technology has made more effective legislators and, I believe, better legislation," he said. *


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