Can New York make the case for ODF?

State legislator says her bill can succeed where others have failed

The New York state politician backing a bill that would order the state to examine a switch to open document formats for official business said Friday that she is optimistic her bill will escape the fate of similar bills in five other states.

On Wednesday, RoAnn Destito, a longtime Democratic assemblywoman from the upstate city of Utica,  introduced Assembly Bill A08961 into the Committee on Governmental Operations, which Destito chairs.

In a telephone interview, Destito said the bill is likely to come out of her committee by early next week and go to the Ways and Means Committee, of which she is also a member.

Ways and Means is chaired by a Democratic assemblyman, Herman D. Farrell Jr., who represents the Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods of New York City.

The bill must be approved by Ways and Means before it can go to an Assembly-wide vote. That has to happen by about June 22nd, when all lawmaking is done for the year.

State bills that mandated government agencies switch to open document formats such as ODF away from proprietary ones such as Microsoft Office were defeated in five states, including Connecticut, Texas, California, Florida and Oregon.

Only in Minnesota, where a bill supporting a switch to open document formats was watered-down to a study bill, did legislation pass.

Destito said the fact that her bill is similarly "not mandating anything but a study" of the feasibility of switching to open document formats should lessen the political opposition. Destito has also already garnered the support of the state’s recently-appointed CIO, Melanie Mayberry-Stewart, who would be in charge of studying the issue.

"She didn’t express any real opinion either way on open document formats, but she said had no problem with doing the study," Destito said.

As with Rep. Marc Veasey, the Texas legislator who sponsored that state’s open documents bill, Destito acknowledged that she became interested specifically in open document formats after being approached by IBM, a major backer of ODF, about a year ago.

 "Did they come and talk to me? Absolutely," she said. "But we were already looking at this as the next step in making sure that the information we have on our state Web sites is available to anyone, whatever software they are using."

Destito, who was first elected to her seat in 1992, says she is no technological neophyte. She helped create the state’s Office of Technology earlier this decade, which she still helps oversee. She noted that the Assembly already uses an open-source Web browser, Mozilla Firefox, for its computers.

"This isn’t against Microsoft. It’s not pro-anybody," she said. "If people want to stay on Microsoft Office and use plug-ins [for converting files to different formats, as they are doing in Massachusetts], that would work."

"But the fact is that we do need to make sure our Web sites and state government are open to all citizenry," Destito continued. "It shouldn’t be one software package or document format that is exclusive to the state."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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