Monday, January 20, 2014

Bill would put legislative committee meetings a mouse click away

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — If there is one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it's that the public is skeptical of what their elected officials are doing.

State Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, says she has a bill that would help cure part of that.

House Bill 2438 would require live audio and video broadcasts of all legislative committee meetings and House and Senate sessions for public access on the Internet.

Seeing and hearing legislators as they work on public policy and bills will help citizens better understand the process and stay current on matters that affect their lives, Clayton said.

"Transparency is neat," she said.

In addition, she said having a camera in the committee room will ensure that legislators are paying attention. "They won't be playing so much Candy Crush on their phones," she said.

The bill, entitled the Transparency and Accountability Act, has a wide spectrum of sponsors, ranging from tea party Republicans to Democrats.

It was introduced last week as the 2014 legislative session started and was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

Audio of Kansas House and Senate sessions is already streamed live on the Internet (go to, but Clayton says video is needed because just hearing the proceedings is oftentimes confusing.

All the committee rooms in the renovated Statehouse are wired to provide audio and video, she said, so the state would only have to purchase cameras.

Clayton's bill requires one camera per committee room but she didn't have a cost estimate for the proposal. She said she thought it could be done for $10,000.

Most states provide live streaming of House and Senate proceedings, while states vary considerably on whether they broadcast committees, said Brenda Erickson, a senior research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Erickson said the trend is for more committees to have their meetings broadcast but there is a wide range of considerations to be factored into the decision.

Some committee rooms in old statehouses are too small for the equipment needed, while some legislators think having a camera in the room could intimidate people who come to testify. "They don't want to disturb the process," she said.

And legislators also are wary that broadcasts could be used against them in political races by taking comments or video out of context, she said.

Clayton said she looks forward to debating the issue, saying that citizens need to have better access to their legislators. Her bill, she said, "is a baby step" in that process.