Chad Blair: The Hawaii Legislature’s New And (Mostly) Improved Website - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

There’s a new governor and lieutenant governor along with lots of new faces at the Hawaii State Capitol already hard at work.

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There is also a new official website to help folks navigate the often byzantine structure of the work that goes on inside the Big Square Building on Beretania Street.

I took the revamped site, which was updated Nov. 14, for a test spin this week. My general evaluation is that it will be a very user-friendly experience for most — once they get used to the new layout, and once legislative coders complete their work. It’s sort of like an upgrade to your smart phone: a little irritating at first but then you settle in.

“The simplified homepage, with the tabs and drop-down menus will make it easier for users to navigate the website,” said Keanu Young, assistant public access coordinator with the nonpartisan Public Access Room on the fourth floor of the Capitol. “There may be a short adjustment period for longtime users who are used to working with the old design just because the features are in different places from where they remember it being, but new users should enjoy the ease of navigating to different sections and accessing information quickly.”

The new layout is much less cluttered than the old one. It also directly incorporates portions of the previous version — for example, the Reports & Lists section, which as a reporter and editor I use more than just about any other section. Click on the “View” button on the home page and you’ll find the same layout as before, although I am told that it, too, will get a makeover soon.

Quick go-to links for frequently users are posted prominently on the Hawaii Legislature's new website.
Quick go-to links for popular sections are posted prominently on the Hawaii Legislature’s new website. 

I like Reports & Lists because I find it much faster to see exactly how many bills were introduced on a particular topic in the Hawaii House of Representatives or Senate in a biennial session. A keystroke search using the Command and F buttons for the word “gambling” in 2021-2022, for example, turned up 49 references, while the word “gaming” appeared 29 times.

There is a search option in the upper right-hand corner of the main page, but I find the “Keyword” search of much less use. Type in “gambling” or “gaming” and the search will turn up the more than 5,000 times the words were used in crafting legislation over the past two years. But I know others that like the data dump.

Virginia Beck, the PAR coordinator, says that the new layout has more of a logical order and structure that will be much more familiar for users of websites experienced in working “throughout the online universe.”

“And I don’t know if you checked it out on your mobile phone, but the new design is much more mobile-phone friendly,” she added.

I did not know that, actually. Sure enough, it checked out. That will come in very handy when I am trying to look up the status of legislation but don’t have my laptop at hand.

Because of Covid, the Legislature was forced to make more of its work available online. It is now a popular and permanent feature.
Because of Covid-19 and the temporary closure of the State Capitol, the Legislature was forced to make more of its work available online. It is now a popular and permanent feature. 

Another feature of note is the Live & On-Demand Video tab that directs users to Senate and House committee hearings and floor sessions carried on YouTube, including those that are archived.

One of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic — if I can put it that way — is that legislators were motivated to make online access a priority, given that the physical Capitol was closed for months to the general public. That is especially helpful for people on the neighbor islands who wish to follow events and testify without having to fly to Oahu and fight for parking in the Capitol basement parking lot.

Beck said the Live & On-Demand Video section illustrates the Legislature’s commitment to being transparent and allowing the public to “watch what the Legislature is doing.”

One other change that I think is a good one: The status pages of bills used to list from top to bottom the chronology of the legislation, from introduction to whether it passed or not. Now the latest development — e.g., passed, signed into law, vetoed, deferred — is at the top of the page.

Modern Times

We complain a lot in Hawaii about antiquated IT systems in state and county government. The Hawaii Legislature’s website, however, has been one of our best features for years now.

As far back as 2012 the National Conference of State Legislatures awarded Hawaii its top honors for legislative websites. It had been redesigned and upgraded less than a year before.

Among other things, NCSL judges credited capitol.hawaii.gov for its guide for first-time users, explanations about “how to use various features,” a citizens guide and a legislative glossary that allowed citizens of all ages to participate in the legislative process.

Those features remain intact today. You will also find links to employment opportunities in both the House and Senate. “Have you ever been interested in learning the inner workings of State Government?” asks the House website. “Do you want to help make your State a better place to live and work?”

There is also a link to PAR’s guide for the new site. I’ve included it at the end of this article, but you can also stop by the PAR office and print out a copy at no charge.

Speaking of PAR: I highly recommend calling (808-587-0478), emailing (par@capitol.hawaii.gov) or visiting its website for more help figuring out the website features. PAR is a division of the Legislative Reference Bureau, and it’s looking for session hires, too.

Senate Chief Clerk Carol Taniguchi credits staff at the Data Systems Office at the Legislature for the revamped website, something she said was long overdue.

“We haven’t had a refresh in more than 10 years, and the site has evolved over time,” she said. “The homepage became overwhelming, and it ended up being challenging to be able to access things, especially for new users.”

With feedback from PAR, which interfaces with the public all the time, as well as input from longtime users, the website was modernized. It also came at no additional cost, said Taniguchi, who praised the coding skills of staff.

On Thursday, Senate Data Systems will perform annual maintenance of the website, so some website “functionality” will be unavailable. Once complete, anything related to the 2022 session will be moved to the Archives — another area where there are still things still to be worked out.

Post-election updates are also expected, too. And Taniguchi says to expect more updates, as it’s all a work in progress.

 


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

The other day I was looking for the bills introduced in 1998, near the time the legislature first went online. I was shocked that the bills archive and reports list only go back to 2013. I wanted to check who voted for and against the creation of the HTA.... it aint there.I also now can't find the 2005 bill and votes that created the general excise tax authorization that funds rail. Was there before but now gone.I hope all of the old data is restored. It is what makes the website a valuable tool for research. I'd hate to have to go to the PAR room, LRB library or State Archives to look for paper copies of stuff that was previously online.Bring the entire year by year archive back from the time the legislature first went online. The data is historic, valuable and still a relevant research tool.

macprohawaii · 1 month ago

thanks chad. this will be a big help. hopefully when they are done there will be a notification to users that the site has been redesigned. first i heard about it was this article.

lynnematusow · 1 month ago

The best part of the update is that staff did the update themselves and did not hire outside consultants to do it for them. The result is excellent.

Konajack1 · 1 month ago

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