Guest Column: Oregon knows technology is fallible | Columns

Oregon has no traffic accidents.

But there are computer crashes.

A routine bill in legislature in 2021 would have changed the terms “accident” and “collision” in state traffic laws to “crash”. However, House Bill 3050 died on the Senate Order Committee where Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, inexplicably sent it last month of the Legislature. Due to “some kind of technical glitch” described as “some kind of technical glitch” it never appeared on the committee’s list of bills to work.

The 89-page bill itself isn’t a big deal, although the term “accident” is considered out of date as most crashes are preventable – the result of human error as opposed to random occurrences. It is important that the fate of HB 3050 was not an isolated incident. Legislators said at least some other bills “disappeared” due to IT bugs.

Technology is fallible. Its shortcomings in the 2021 legislature are nothing compared to other recent IT problems in the state government – the new state telephone system, an emergency network, the Cover Oregon health care debacle, and of course the much-noticed problems with the Oregon Employment Department systems.

Overconfidence or hubris are also not unique in the IT world. Remember the confidence with which Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said in February 2020 that our state was well prepared to deal with this emerging coronavirus called COVID-19?

The Democrats named the 2021 session the most accessible and transparent in Oregon history, as people from anywhere in Oregon could testify about bills via video conference or phone. To stick with this topic of conversation, the legislature seldom acknowledged the shortcomings: due to technological constraints, committee meetings were limited to certain blocks of time, which in turn limited the amount of public testimony and debate by lawmakers. Video feeds sometimes crashed. Committee members were often not visible to the public, and sometimes not to each other. People often said that when it was their turn to testify, they would not be able to get through. Written testimony and other documents sometimes became difficult to find as legislation progressed.

Although the legislature’s technology has improved significantly compared to previous years, it has widened the gap between the technological haves and the haves. Oregonians required a certain level of technical skill to participate. They also needed reliable internet or phone connections that are not available in much of rural Oregon.

Television stations were set up outside the Capitol so that anyone who did not have internet access could follow what was going on. As far as I can remember, I have never seen anyone use them.

No matter what the world wishes for, the old “normal” is gone forever. The pandemic has introduced technology into our lives in valuable ways that may never go away – from attending legislative hearings remotely, to conducting medical appointments via video, ordering online at restaurants, and combining in-person and video services.

Therefore, the overarching technology question for the Legislature and Oregon Capitol staff can be broken down into four parts: A) What lessons have been learned this year? B) Who is creating, evaluating, and following these lessons? C) What other ideas can Oregon adopt from other states, local governments, and the private sector? D) What improvements will be made for the legislature in 2022 and ahead, and how will these improvements be effectively tested by real people across the state?

Here are two more questions about Capitol operations:

Are metal detectors coming to the Capitol?

The Oregon Capitol will reopen to the public. But what will the public experience be like if the main public entrances remain closed due to construction work?

Meanwhile, lawmakers have voted to ban individuals, including covert gun license holders, from bringing guns into the Capitol. This would probably affect legislators or employees who regularly carry concealed weapons for self-defense. How is this enforced when it comes to that?

Three Republican officials – E. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, David Brock Smith of Port Orford, and the recently deposed Mike Nearman of Independence – tabled an initiative on June 2 to repeal Senate Act 554, which includes other firearms restrictions. You have until September 24th to collect 74,680 valid signatures from voters and to force an election.

The legislature, not the governor, is responsible for the Capitol. When SB 554 comes into force this fall, will the legislature install metal detectors, search people entering the building or take other security measures? The facade of the Capitol already resembles a fortress with concrete security bollards blocking the passage where cars and buses would unload visiting school children, tourists, demonstrators and others.

Dick Hughes has been reporting on the Oregon political scene since 1976.

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