State lines

Hello, 406-444-2700! Montana state employees last month got a software upgrade that added caller ID features to the state's Integrated Services Digital Network.

The software identifies callers by phone number only, said Tony Herbert, administrator for Montana's Information Technology Services Division. 'But it also gives out employees' numbers when they call out, too,' he said. Calls from Montana agencies are identified as 'MT ST GOVT,' Herbert said. 'So it's a two-way street.'

The state already had display screens on most phones, Herbert said, so the feature only needed a software upgrade to be activated.

'It's already been advantageous,' Herbert said. 'Sometimes people forget to leave their number when they call. The voice mail on the new software will tell you the number if the caller doesn't. I've been able to return calls I otherwise wouldn't.'

School supplies. Maine's 18,000 seventh-graders started class this year with new Apple iBook notebook computers through the state's Learning and Technology Initiative.

Gov. Angus King has pressed for the program since 2000, but it was threatened last winter by a looming state budget deficit. Backers of the program prevailed, and the state's Education Department in January awarded a four-year, $37 million contract to Apple Computer Inc. to provide the notebooks as well as training for teachers and other services.

The project includes 239 schools. Next year, the Education Department plans to extend the program to the eighth grade, with the purchase of an additional 18,000 notebooks. Teachers will receive about 1,000 of the systems.

Sprague said schools that participated in a pilot involving about 700 students last spring reported reduced absenteeism and fewer discipline problems.

Awaiting the results. The House and Senate are working to resolve differences on two bills that would give states funding for electronic election systems. The Federal Election Grant Accessibility Program is a small part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2002 (HR 3295), which is in conference committee.

Under the grant program, states and local governments could apply for grants of up to $5 million from the Justice Department to implement voting system standards, establish provisional voting requirements and create a computerized voter registration list. The bill authorizes $3 billion over four years, including $2.3 billion for fiscal 2003 and 2004.

The legislation includes other initiatives and funding opportunities to improve state and local election systems.

Opportunity. The Environmental Protection Agency offers grants to advance the National Environmental Information Exchange Network through data integration efforts with state and tribal governments. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/neengprg.

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