AUSTIN (KXAN) - When Javier Guitierrez showed up to the Texas State Capitol this legislative session, he was ready for a wait. The McAllen fire captain had heard how long the lines could be to testify before a House committee.
As a representative of his industry's pensions trustees, he said his concern was with a sunset recommendation to eliminate the go-between for retired firefighters and the state.
"I'm here to speak up, to let them know how important this person can be," Guitierrez said. "It's a great value for firefighters in general throughout the whole state to have retirement systems."
But the process to register as a witness before the House Pensions Committee was a breeze. It took Guitierrez just two minutes to sign into a new electronic registration system – the first of its kind at any state capitol in the nation. No lines. No confusion.
"People were having to form long lines to pick up witness forms," said House Parliamentarian Chris Griesel. "This allows people to have basically an unlimited number of lines to submit their information to us."
There are 22 registration stations lining the extension hallways outside House committee rooms. Griesel said his team spent about $700 on each machine, saving about that same amount by using recycled iPads.
"In the old days what you would do is take a piece of paper and fill it out," he said. "Then someone else would type that piece of paper, and then someone else would type that piece of paper and put it into a report, then that piece of paper would get typed again."
The devices sit on a retractable arm, able to be pulled up or down depending on your height. A quick swipe across the screen will take you to the witness registration page, where you can:
- Register to testify before a House committee
- Watch a video tutorial of the system
- Save your information for future testimony
- Watch a video feed of the hearing
- Monitor the hearing to know when it is your turn
Lawmakers can also see who will testify on their own devices. Officials said it not only cuts down on wait time for witnesses, but also allows staff to focus on other tasks.
"We expect that in the future, maybe the Senate will be picking up this same thing," Griesel said.
You can also register from your own laptop or mobile device, as long as you are connected to the Capitol Wifi. This system can be especially helpful with packed hearing rooms and busy days at the Capitol, possibly encouraging more participation in the lawmaking process.
"Hearing voices from the community helps members understand what the challenges are," Griesel said.
The House is also experimenting with Skype testimony for certain witnesses who cannot be in Austin for some hearings. Officials are also considering the use of testimony uploaded to YouTube in the future.
Griesel said technological upgrades like the registration system have allowed the House to save quite a bit of paper and money.
"Two years ago, we were running 30 million pieces of paper and within a session and using electronic distribution of documents, we've move to cut that in half," he said.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could oust her from office.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside a vehicle after the child's family was involved in a fender bender, DPS said.
Austin Police confirm they have located an 82-year-old women who went missing last night.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.