AUGUSTA (AP) – A legislator who has had a first-hand look at the benefits of laptop computers in middle school classrooms wants to put them on the desks of lawmakers.

Rep. Stephen Bowen, R-Rockport, himself an eight-grade teacher, has introduced a bill that calls for the state to provide legislators with computers, word processing software, Internet access and e-mail.

Bowen suggests that the machines be paid for out of the Legislature’s printing budget and perhaps from out-of-state travel money.

“We’re personally keeping Maine’s paper industry in business here,” he said.

Others agreed that the Legislature is awash in paper and a shift to laptops would provide some relief.

“I have to come in early every morning to go through a mound of paper a foot deep,” said Rep. Stan Moody, D-Manchester.

Some lawmakers already have laptops at their desks, taking advantage of the wireless Internet capability already in place at the Statehouse.

Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, uses her own laptop at committee hearings and in between legislative work to keep in touch with her law practice.

“It’s a great idea,” she said. “I use mine all the time in Appropriations to e-mail questions to staff and get prompt answers.”

The state pays $275,000 in printing costs for the first year of a two-year session and $133,000 for the second, shorter session, according to David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council.

Copies of documents made for the public come out of those totals, so not all of the money could be earmarked for legislative laptops, he said.

Bowen said use of e-mail and the Internet could dramatically reduce spending on paper.

Rep. A. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the computers should remain at the Legislature for use only during the day. He said they would be state property reserved for future lawmakers’ use.

Bowen said the state’s buying power would reduce the cost initially and save on printing over the long run.

While some new legislators may need to be trained, Bowen said it would be no different than preparing teachers when the state put laptops into the middle schools.

“I would love for us to pull this institution into the 21st century,” he said.

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