Paper proliferation

The bills are large, amendments multiple,
and 197 legislators need copies of everything
Sunday, May 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Over the course of a legislative session, many things can flow out of a statehouse, like vitriol, rhetoric and legislation. In Missouri’s case, add paper products to that list.

Administrative officials in Missouri’s House and Senate estimated that the two branches of government combined used roughly six million sheets of paper during the session.

That number, though, pales in comparison to the yearly totals.

Including legislative session, the House generates between 10 million and 12 million sheets of paper, and the Senate uses about 9 million. In total, the Capitol produces between 19 million and 21 million sheets of paper.

Typically, Senate and House administrators said, manuals and newsletter publication accounts for the paper-pushing, above and beyond the amendments and bills that can range in size from one or two pages to hundreds.

Keith Sappington, director of operations in the House, said he sees no signs of reducing the paper consumption. In fact, he said, the last couple of years have been pretty constant.

“They’ve talked about ‘paperless’ government in the past,” he said. “But it hasn’t been convenient enough — they don’t want to have to keep looking at laptop screens while they’re talking.”

Sappington has his own theories as to why government goes through such a tremendous volume of paper, aside from the obvious — that bills are large, amendments multiple, and 197 legislators need copies of everything.

Sappington said computers have actually made matters worse.

“You can get access to a lot more information,” he said. “You see a document, you print it.”

Though representatives could find laptops inconvenient, some of their legislative aides might choose to disagree. Legislative aides do most of the photocopying, reprinting and hauling of bills for their senator or representative.

It’s especially tough for Kelly Schultz, aide to Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, who calls herself a “tree hugger.” She said she cringes when she sees a monumental amount of photocopying to do. Schultz keeps three recycling bins under her desk, but even then, she said, it’s not always enough.

When told that the number of sheets of paper the government uses is well into the millions, she — a firsthand observer (and consumer) of the Capitol’s prolific paperwork production — replied: “I’m not surprised. Not at all.”

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