It’s time for the Idaho House of Representatives to repeal a rule that prevents ordinary Idahoans from capturing video in House committee rooms.
The restriction, part of the House’s rulebook that outlines how representatives conduct business, flies in the face of open government and, with technological advances, will soon become entirely unenforceable.
Officially the restriction is known as House Rule 75, which says in part, “Except newsmen accredited … no person shall tape record, film or transmit by other means, live proceedings of the House of Representatives or committees thereof without consent of the presiding officer or leave of the body.”
In short, credentialed media have free rein to record as they please, but visitors, activists and political bloggers must beg permission from committee leaders before every meeting.
To be sure, this isn’t like other outdated laws that no one knows about or enforces. On the contrary, Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, and Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, paused a House State Affairs Committee meeting during the 2015 session to shut down a local activist’s camera.
The activist, Tom Munds of Middleton, stopped filming and scribbled handwritten notes for the meeting’s duration. Meanwhile, a cameraman from a Boise-area TV station continued his filming unfettered.
Neither man disturbed the committee’s proceedings, yet legislators dropped the hammer on one -- but not the other. The difference? The cameraman had government-approved credentials, the activist did not.
Not all chairmen would take the hard line Batt and Crane did. One committee chair told me if someone whipped out a phone or other recording device to film a meeting, he wouldn’t stop proceedings.
That’s the right attitude, but Capitol visitors might not come out so lucky in the House’s 13 other committee rooms.
Interestingly enough, House Rule 75 is unique even in the Capitol corridors. Across the rotunda, interested onlookers have the right to capture video as they please in Senate committee rooms.
Senate leaders deserve a pat on the back for keeping their committee rooms open to people who want to record government machinations.
The House rule, besides being unfair to the non-credentialed, conflicts with the reality of a digital, always-on society. With the rise of smart devices in every hand, House members are unwise to believe they can create closed, restricted spaces where only they say who can capture video and who can’t.
Plus, innovative devices may soon stymie legislators’ ability to recognize who is recording video and who isn’t. What happens in a few years when someone wears a pair of Google Glasses or Microsoft’s HoloLens to a committee room? Will legislators pause a hearing to inspect every attendee’s digital-eye apparatus?
This year, the Idaho Freedom Foundation asks House members to take a look at this rule and examine if it’s in the spirit of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Or, does the rule arbitrarily violate the American ideals of open, transparent government?
We hope lawmakers have that conversation in 2016 and conclude: it’s time for the rule to fall by the wayside.