Lawmakers Use Enough Paper To Reach 83 Stories High

2.5 Million Sheets Of Paper Have Been Printed On Since January

Imagine stacking one piece of paper on top of another until that stack reaches 83 stories high. That's how much paper has been printed on at the state Capitol this legislative session.

Since January, lawmakers have sorted through 2.5 million sheets of paper about bills, amendments, calendars and summaries.

At least 500 of those sheets of paper were needed to print an Earth Day resolution for April 22. The resolution acknowledged green ideas and recycling.

When asked if it was necessary to print all the pages for an Earth Day proclamation, one senator siad it was just easier to use paper.

"I come from the generation where I like to see something and hold it in my hand," said Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, sponsor of the Earth Day proclamation.

She did admit there may have been a better way.

"You know, I think to be put on a screen would be a good idea," said Williams.

Williams is one of many lawmakers who prefer having a printed copy of legislation instead of relying on the digital copy online.

"Definitely, I would say that paper at the Capitol is wasteful. It's probably indicative of our whole society, that we are a paper society, a throw-away society," said Williams.

She did, however, request less printed copies of the end of the year journal, which summarizes the legislative session.

"I would probably be one of the examples of those that switched over from that and that probably cut down 50 percent of my paper," said Williams.

When asked about the Earth Day proclamation, another lawmaker said that there simply needs to be options that will please all legislators.

"I think every member should have the chance if they want to get a hard copy so they can read it if they don't like reading it online, but people should have the option," said Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

Ferrandino said he prefers reading his documents online, but doesn't frown upon those who need a printed copy. Earlier this year, he sponsored a bill that would keep homeowners from receiving phone books without prior approval. Under the proposed bill, the organization delivering a phone book to a residence that had opted out would have been cited for paper waste.

"Was your three page bill on paper waste, a waste of paper?" asked Zelinger.

"I don't think so, I think it was a good conversation," said Ferrandino. "It's a conversation we should have about yellow and white pages. It's a conversation we should have in this chamber and the Senate about how much paper we're using."

The three-page bill was printed on about 1,000 sheets of paper. It died in its first committee hearing.

"Any member who's going to make a decision on to vote 'Yes' or 'No' on something, should have the chance to read it in the format that they're comfortable reading it," said Ferrandino.

Every morning, legislative staff delivers bills, amendments, journals, calendars, status sheets and other printed documents to the lawmakers' desks. The pages are put in file cabinets and folders; some are laid right next to the taxpayer-funded laptops that have access to digital copies of the same documents.

When asked, House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Lousiville, said that there are online copies for all printed materials, but that it did not created redundancy.

Weissmann is among those lawmakers who take notes on the bills themselves, so they can refer back to the documents when making decisions.

"A lot of us are old school. We read the bills, we write on them," said Weissmann.

He did point out that lawmakers could request not to receive the printed materials. He also showed 7NEWS how some of the documents have shrunk over the years in size and content.

"They used to print 600 to 650 copies of bills, now we print 325 copies of bills," said Marilyn Eddins, chief clerk of the House of Representatives. "Every time (a bill is) amended, we don't print the whole bill, we only print amended pages."

Eddins explained that a major paper saving effort was new technology replacing end of the year journals, summarizing the year's legislative session. Those journals are now available on a searchable CD, and not printed in as many bound books as in previous years.

Copies of printed legislation are made for lawmakers, staff and the general public.

"We could be more paperless, but it's very difficult," said Eddins. "We've cut the amount of bills we print now in half. A lot of progress being made."

Most of the printed pages are kept in file cabinets next to each lawmaker's desk. At the end of the year, if the lawmaker doesn't keep the printed pages, lawmakers and staff tell 7NEWS that the file cabinets are emptied and the contents recycled.

The price of all the paper at the Capitol actually adds up to about 2 cents per page. So the 83-story stack of paper equals about $50,000.

7NEWS can also be guilty of excessive paper use. Many in the newsroom are trying to be more digital, with the use of thumb drives and electronic requests for information. When we are through with the paper we use, there are multiple recycling bins throughout the newsroom.