Hackers, webcam crashes and network glitches are all in a day’s work for the Legislature’s Web and IT team during the session.
The five-person IT team is housed in the Legislative Council Service offices.
Ralph Vincent, an IT contractor, said he started helping automate budgets and other work for the Legislature after 1990.
The first Legislative website he helped launch in the mid-1990s had just the basics: Legislators’ names, committee information and a basic bill tracker. Every year, there are more links and information available through the site. “I don’t know that we’ve changed the website as much as added to it,” Vincent said, adding that the ongoing goal for the website is to keep it simple and accessible, if not flashy.
They made sure documents on the website were available in HTML and PDF format, to accommodate people who only had access to slow processing and low bandwidth for their computers.
The Legislative Council Service drafts bills, memorials and resolutions as requested by lawmakers. Once entered in the Legislature’s database and given a control number, the thousands of pages of documents generated each session are easier to track. “The links you see on the site, almost every page is dynamic. So it is generated based on databases,” Vincent said.
“Pretty much everything is automated now [via software], except for getting documents from here to there,” Vincent said.
The “here to there” is the daily updates to legislation as it moves through the lawmaking process. Those updates are handled by bill historians and other staff from the Legislative Council Service, who record committee and floor votes and amendments.
The computer tracks changes to the bills via the control number and sends the documents out automatically to several places at once, including the website’s bill locator. It creates links on the website between various documents.
The Web team also added committee calendar schedules to the website and a custom “Bill Tracker.”
One of the biggest changes in the last few years was the addition of audio and video streaming. Three years ago, the House approved audio streaming for the floor sessions and the Senate approved audio and video streaming for its floor sessions. Multiple webcams were added in 2011. This year, both the House and Senate approved webcams in committee hearings.
The streaming has proven so popular that the sites continue to crash periodically under the traffic. “The number of people watching sessions through the webcams has gone up significantly,” Vincent said.
Each time the team increased the bandwidth thinking it would handle viewer traffic, the traffic caught up. “It is better, but still not as good as we would like,” Vincent said. “We’re always trying to keep up.”
At any given time during the session now, they’ll have eight streams of audio and video to manage simultaneously.
The BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, open policy at the Legislature challenges the IT team to get all legislators and their staffs networked on new equipment each session.
The Legislature does have a Twitter feed and boasts more than 1,700 followers so far. The tweets are handled by John Yaeger, the LCS assistant director for legislative affairs and a few other staff. “We have to be careful what we tweet because the LCS is nonpartisan,” Yaeger said.
But there’s no Facebook page — yet.
Security is always an ongoing challenge for the IT team, said Mark Guillen, IT manager. So far, they’ve been able to prevent any major hacking. “We’re hit with a lot of intrusions from China and Russia,” Guillen said.