Several years ago the North Dakota Legislature implemented a video system for floor sessions in the House and Senate chambers.
I should pause here to note that, with this blog celebrating its 16th birthday yesterday, I’ve been around long enough to remember when we only had an audio stream of floor sessions. Through RealPlayer which, I’m surprised to learn, apparently still exists.
Anyway, the system is pretty good. Not only are live streams available, but archived records of past sessions are accessible too. You can even use the system to jump around in the video if you want to watch a particular lawmaker speak, or see the debate on a specific piece of legislation. It can be a little buggy at times, but for the most part, it works.
Now there’s a push to extend the video system to the Legislature’s committee rooms where, as any observer of the process will tell you, is where the sausage really gets made. Floor debates can be interesting, and even surprising at times, but very often by the time a piece of legislation reaches the floor for a vote most of the debate is already over.
There has been resistance to doing this from some lawmakers who are worried about committee hearings becoming less candid, and more political, as participants (not only lawmakers but those testifying before committees) grandstand for the cameras.
This isn’t an unwarranted concern. Too much of politics has become an exercise in calculated histrionics, all to create viral moments for the social media mobs. While that’s great for people who are *ahem* in the business of writing and talking about politics, one wonders if it’s healthy for our form of democracy.
Still, public meetings are public meetings, and it is incumbent upon us to find reasonable ways to enhance the public’s access to them, even if people starting behaving stupidly.
Recently state Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla) has started live-streaming the committee hearings he’s involved with using his smartphone and social media. He said he’s doing it to “shame” fellow lawmakers into providing some sort of an official feed.
Now Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner will “eventually” start live streaming committee hearings.
That sounds like progress, but we should consider going a bit further than simply plugging the committee rooms into the Legislature’s existing system.
Lawmakers should explore using existing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to reach a bigger audience.
I say explore because it the additional expense is exorbitant then perhaps it’s not worth the trouble. But would that really be the case? These are free platforms to use, and since they are where citizens seem to be spending most of their time these days, why put Legislative content there too?
The Legislature does the people’s business. Why not put it in front of the most people possible?