TOPEKA — Sen. Anthony Hensley often used key words in the search field of the Kansas Legislature's website to find bills and statutes he needed for research.
He hasn't been able to do so for some time now. The state has a new site that some say isn't shining much light on open government.
"There is a great sense of frustration right now with the website," said Hensley, the Senate's Democratic leader from Topeka.
Information about when committees are meeting and what they're talking about, for example, has been sporadic and sketchy at times. That means someone trying to keep track of a certain issue, such as abortion, might have a difficult time doing so.
The website, called KLISS — the Kansas Legislative Information Systems and Services — is an $11.5 million project; it was originally budgeted at $13.5 million.
A message on the site, kslegislature.org, says, "Welcome to KLISS — the website for the Kansas Legislative Information Systems and Services. KLISS integrates the information from many functions within the Legislature and presents in a hyperlinked 'no wrong door' model. We will be adding new features and new information to this website very regularly over the next while so please check back often!"
Propylon, a private company with headquarters in Lawrence, is building the system, said Don Heiman, chief information technology officer for the Legislature. Heiman said Propylon is being paid $6 million, of which $2 million is outstanding. Propylon is at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on the University of Kansas' West Campus.
"We have about 15 to 18 technologists from Propylon building the system," Heiman said."... It is all of the lawmaking processes from the beginning crafting of a bill ... through publication. As they (legislators) go through the various movements of making law, you will see more and more information come up on that public site."
Heiman knows some people are complaining about the site. He testified this week before the joint committee on information technology.
The project includes 7,000 pages of requirements and design specifications, 21 subsystems and 14.2 million lines of computer code, Heiman said.
Heiman explains the problem this way: "We had to bring up a hosted services site so citizens could have access to this application. I had not contracted for a hosted services site with Propylon because I thought we could use the existing site maintained by INK (Information Network of Kansas)."
But that hosted service site, he said, "relied on feeds from systems that I was taking out," and created problems.
Propylon has contracted with Jones Huyett Partners, a Topeka company, for market research "to give us a front end that would be more user-friendly and would handle issues associated with navigation," Heiman said.
The front end is in the final rounds of testing, he said.
"You've seen some growing pains as we're standing it up," Heiman said.
From Jan. 10 to Feb. 9, the site tallied 620,277 page views by the public. The average visitor looks at 6.6 pages per visit. About 50 percent go to the House Chamber page, and about 30 percent go to the Senate Chamber page, Heiman said. Twenty-two percent visit the "current happenings" page.
The site had 93,624 unique visitors during that time period, Heiman said.
John Harrington, vice president of professional services for Propylon, said the company "has committed a lot of resources. ... It's improving every day and will continue to improve."
Harrington said the company already has received a lot of feedback from the public. He said the website will have a new look and feel next week.
"Throughout the session we'll continue to take feedback," Harrington said, saying the project is fluid.
Hensley and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said they hope the site improves soon.
"I'm receiving a lot of complaints from constituents and legislators about their ability to access information," Davis said.