By JENNIFER KERRAssociated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) -- California state government, a bastion of paperwork and red tape, is jumping into Cyberspace.
The state that contains Silicon Valley is making its Legislature and many public agencies available on the Internet, the worldwide computer network.
Californians sitting at computers far from the state Capitol can learn what their legislators and bureaucrats are doing without spending a fortune on phone calls and stamps.
California is one of about nine states that have legislative information available on the Internet, said Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, the chamber's computer guru.
Bowen is a lawyer who became computer literate by doing her word processing, billing and bookkeeping on a PC. She remembers how difficult it was to get government information when she was in the private sector.
``I had a lot of trouble figuring out what was going on in the Legislature,'' Bowen said. ``From Eureka or Torrance, Sacramento might as well be Mars,'' she said.
Bowen authored a 1993 law requiring all information about the Legislature that has been available to the public in printed form since 1849 be accessible on the Internet.
The state Department of Education recently found the Internet a big budget help. Since the department has no funding this year for the California Learning Assessment System test, it couldn't distribute 1994 test results this month. The scores were put on the Internet.
The state Department of Water Resources was deluged this year with people needing information about floods. It created the California Water Page on the World Wide Web to tell users about flooding, snowstorms and disaster help.
About 6,000 people a week have accessed the page, said department spokesman Larry Filby.
``March was a busy month and a lot of people were looking for all the information they can get about the flood waters,'' he said.
The state's new lanes on the Information Superhighway could also revolutionize the way citizens lobby their government.
``I think it's going to change the way bills ultimately are lobbied,'' said Sen. Bill Leonard, R-San Bernardino, who has had an Internet address for 18 months.
In the past, groups or individuals had to hire lobbyists in Sacramento to get information on issues before the Legislature.
``That's now gone; you can look at them (bills) on your own,'' Leonard said.
Most state agencies on the Internet are moving very cautiously.
For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles' home page on the World Wide Web says: ``Welcome to the DMV's first venture onto the Infobahn. This forum currently contains just a few documents on doing business with the DMV.''
Available are just a list of local DMV offices and information on licensing of DMV-related businesses.
``Most of the material we're doing is a test phase,'' said Lee Mosbrucker, Internet advisor for the Health and Welfare Agency Data Center, one of the state's two giant computer centers. ``We're looking at it from a business perspective, taking a slow approach to services.''
The HWDC wants to spend $236,000 next year to provide more information to the public through the Internet.
The Department of General Services, which contracts with hundreds of private firms for services ranging from insect extermination to photography, hopes to streamline its contracting by listing offerings and information on the Internet.
``Our goal is to cut six to eight weeks out of a typical time,'' said P.K. Agarwall, chief of GSA's Office of Information Service.
The Legislature, by contrast, is merging onto the Cyberspace fast lane.
Bowen knew all the Legislature's work was already on computers, from the writing of each bill through the floor votes.
``I had never heard of the Internet; I just knew there were ways to put it on line,'' she said. ``I just put up the concept. The electronic community found out about it and we figured out a way to make it work.''
Since all the information is already on computer, putting it on the Internet cost less than $100,000, she said. The biggest cost was a security device that prevents people from hacking the state's computers to get confidential information or make changes.
``My guess is we've already saved that much in postage costs,'' Bowen said.
The legislative Internet system has been averaging about 50,000 uses a month since it started in January 1994, said Bowen aide Mary Winkler. However, during February, when the bulk of 1995 bills were introduced, there were more than 100,000 uses, she said.
Bowen was the first of half a dozen Assembly members who have their own Internet address. She is the only legislator with her own home page on the World Wide Web.
The page describes her committee assignments, her district and her bills and states: ``One of Assemblywoman Bowen's focuses is state information technology. She is dedicated to seeing the state implement an intelligent information policy.''
Bowen said she receives a half dozen Internet messages a day, most of them commenting on her bills, asking for information or passing on computer-related news.
The state Senate is even more computer literate. The Senate has its own WWW page, and about 15 of the 40 state senators have Internet addresses. More are signing on.
``I think everybody's going to be up pretty shortly,'' said Bob Connelly of the Assembly Rules Committee.
Sen. Leonard said he didn't get much mail during the first year he had the Internet account, but is getting more since he listed his address on his stationery.
``To the extent more information is available to people at a reasonable or almost no cost, I think it's better for public policy,'' Leonard said.
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