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The bill would amend the Government Code to establish the Legislative Council (TLC) as the official electronic publisher of the Texas Constitution and statutes,and the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) as the official electronic publisher of the general and special laws passed by the Legislature and also as the official electronic publisher of state agency rules beginning January 1, 2017. The bill would also require the TLC and SOS to create a process which would verify the trustworthiness of all official electronic documents published by the TLC and SOS and make the Page 1 of 2 material reasonably available for use by the public on a permanent basis. The bill would take effect September 1, 2015.
Currently, the Secretary of State electronically publishes Legislative bills as they are passed as well as agency rules of Texas. Based on information provided by the SOS, it is assumed that one contractor would be necessary for three months to accomplish the setup, installation,configuration and coding necessary to adapt the SOS' current computer system to the new requirements. The SOS assumed contractor a cost of $100 per hour for the three month period (520 hours), which would cost $52,000.00 in fiscal year 2016. In addition, SOS anticipates a software cost of $100,000 in fiscal year 2016 as well. For the purposes of this analysis, it is assumed that any additional annual maintenance costs that would be realized each year for the new software could be absorbed utilizing existing resources. Based on information provided by TLC, it is assumed that TLC would need to retain six temporary editors employed during each legislative session for four additional months for an additional $74,000 in salary costs during session years. In addition, one experienced editor would be needed to be responsible for updating and correcting the official database throughout the year. TLC anticipates that salary costs for the editor would include $42,000 during session years (70 percent of a $60,000 salary) and $18,000 during non-session (even) fiscal years (30 percent of a $60,000 salary). TLC also anticipates that costs necessary to provide a verification system to ensure the authenticity of official legal material in an electronic record would include an initial software purchase of $100,000 in fiscal year 2016 with annual software maintenance costs of $10,000 for each subsequent year. The bill would take effect September 1, 2015. The primary responsibilities of both the TLC and the SOS would begin in fiscal year 2017 along with any statute and constitutional updates that would be necessary as a result of legislation enacted from the 85th Legislature, therefore these costs are assumed to begin in fiscal year 2017.
TLC anticipates an initial software purchase of $100,000 in fiscal year 2016 with annual software maintenance costs of $10,000 for each subsequent year. SOS anticipates software costs of $100,000 and programming costs of $52,000 in fiscal year 2016.
HB 1799, if passed, would modify the Government Code (Chapter 2051) by adding a new subchapter (E), the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act. This would be a new regime regarding legal material stored in electronic form. The new sections of code introduced are 2051.151 through 2051.161. The new code is essentially self contained as the sections reference each other.
The first component of the bill is essentially a set of relevant definitions. The bill then states (Section 2051.154) that if legal material is published in electronic form only the record must be designated as official, whereas if the material is published in multiple formats this designation would be optional. A discussion then follows regarding the process of, and effects of official authentication. Notably, the material is presumed accurate, and if a party wishes to contest the accuracy of the material, a preponderance of evidence lies with the contesting party.
Section 2051.159 is noteworthy as it introduces the standards to which electronic records will be held. Publishers are to consider the practices of other jurisdictions, and the most recent standards regarding authentication, preservation, sand security. Publishers are also to consider the needs of users, the views of government officials and other potentially interested parties, and the methods and technologies of authentication, preservation, and security to help make the material more readily available.
HB 1799 is a prudent bill in that with the increased use of electronic technologies, it would be helpful to create a workable legal regime around the use, storage, and protection of legal electronic material. The fiscal cost is somewhat problematic though. Due to the substantive costs and benefits we are neutral on HB 1799.