Guest post: Technology’s effect on the Legislature: Doing the people’s work in the modern age

A guest post by Augustana University student and 2022 legislative intern Noah Greble.

The placing of the State Capitol’s cornerstone; WiFi was not installed until later.

We often reflect on the ways that technology has changed our own lives; iPhones, GPS, and email have certainly made daily life and work a little easier. But when is the last time we had a conversation about how it changes the people’s work of the legislature in our state? Things have certainly changed, and the way our government completes its work has come a long way. 

Those blue tiles in the halls of our capitol, sadly, aren’t hotspots. Those were installed back around 1910, long before the internet was even a concept. In those days, everything was paper and more paper. Bills and journals would be kept in large folders, which left pages and legislative staff with the task of having to update them daily (that’s a lot of papercuts). Later that century, the end of this era began to become a reality. During the Mickelson, Janklow, Wollman, and Kneip administrations, numerous renovations were made to the capitol in anticipation of the state’s centennial anniversary in 1989. It was shortly after this time that the internet made its debut, being installed in capitol offices and legislative desks. While this took place long before the creation of YouTube, it marked a major step of technology for the legislature and set the stage for many more. 

WiFi was invented in 1997, but the full introduction of this technology to the legislature did not come until later. The 1990s and 2000s marked changes including state emails, broadcasting streams in each committee room, and laptops for legislators that were issued on a voluntary basis. This made communication much easier and made the people’s work more accessible to South Dakotans than ever before. When renovations began to take place again in the early 2010s, fully accessible WiFi for all visitors to the capitol shortly followed. This certainly turned many meeting into emails and cut down on the amount paper (and papercuts) in the capitol on an annual basis. Beyond the little things, it set a massive new direction for how our legislature handles its business, and one need only to take one trip to Pierre during session to figure that out. 

When you visit during session now, you won’t find bulletin boards covered with schedules, pages running around with dozens of notes, or the sound of ringing phones in the chamber halls. Instead, you’ll see halls filled with phones and laptops, TV screens, and “on air” buttons in committee rooms. It also means for legislators that sickness does not always have to lead to absence, with Microsoft Teams becoming a core function of committees during COVID. These changes may have had shifted the way things are done, but I would argue that it’s for the better. Our government is now more accessible than ever and carries a level of administrative efficiency that has enhanced the speed of everything. We’ve come a long way when it comes to introducing technology into our legislative process, but it carries a very positive result.