Glitchy: KS senators question staff competency with online video

CLEAR PROGRESS: Transparency legislation to implement online video in the Kansas Capitol passed through the Senate with unanimous support, but lawmakers question whether state IT staff can handle the challenge.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — Over the weekend, Kansas lawmakers threw the full faith and influence of the state Senate behind legislation enacting an online video pilot program.

The same can’t be said for legislators’ confidence in state information technology staff.

Championed by Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, SB 413 rolled through the Senate on a 40-0 vote, and would establish a four-room pilot program to stream video of committee proceedings online. But discussion surrounding the transparency legislation was haunted by memories of glitches from days gone by.

Exhibit A, according to some state senators, is KLISS — Kansas Legislative Information Systems and Services.

In 2011, KLISS was to transform the way the Kansas Legislature did business. No longer would lawmakers rely on ink, tape and glue to literally cobble together legislation. Instead, for $11.5 million, the state’s new technological infrastructure would launch the Capitol into the 21st century by electronically editing and tracking a bill’s progression through the Legislature. But high hopes lead to a quick fall and a crash landing.

In March 2012, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported:

Reaction to KLISS in the 2011 session requires censoring. Words relied upon to capture fury of frustrated lawmakers and legislative staff cannot be published. Repeatable assessments by insiders include “disaster,” “frustration” and “tragedy.”

While KLISS’ kinks have largely been ironed out by now, the experience has left a sour taste with some lawmakers.

“I think this is the last thing we want to keep in the hands of the legislative IT group,” Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said Saturday while advocating more legislative oversight of the pilot program. “If we just sign the legislation and turn our backs and expect it to happen magically, it’s not going to happen.”

Holland wasn’t the only one to vent about technological foibles in the Capitol.

“How could you not have ‘fond’ remembrances of KLISS,” Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, quipped on the Senate floor. “Even to this session, still early on we’re having problems with it.”

Chief legislative IT officer Jim Miller didn’t respond to calls for comment Monday morning.

Gripes about staff capabilities aside, Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, continued pushing for audio-only throughout the building.

“For the cost of this pilot, we could have every room in here wired for audio and still have money left over,” Holmes said. “I’ll be watching real close to see if this is working, or if we have a major debacle in the committee rooms.”

As it stands, SB 413 would cost about $178,000 to equip four to-be-determined committee rooms for online video. Holmes was right to scrutinize the cost, though. A previous Kansas Watchdog report revealed that other states, like Alaska, have equipped as many as eight rooms for online video for about $200,000.

Wolf told the Senate that estimates submitted by the Legislative Office of Information Services were intentionally high to compensate for unknown costs.

“I am in hopes that we can get that fiscal note down,” Wolf said. “I felt like we could do better on the state hardware pricing when we go out to bid on that.”

The Senate also passed an amendment submitted by Wolf to provide a path forward after the pilot program’s first year in 2016. If everything goes well, the entire Capitol could be set up for streaming video by 2018.

The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, and could see further action after lawmakers reconvene April 30.

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Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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