The Idaho State Senate is preparing to vote on new rules that would establish procedures for the recording of House and Senate sessions. Included in the rules are provisions that allow legislators to forbid the release of legislative recordings as well as the webcasting of committee hearings.
“We have sought to make the proceedings of the Legislature, the Supreme Court, and, on an as-needed basis, the executive branch, accessible to all of Idaho’s citizens,” Peter Morrill told IdahoReporter.com. Morrill is the general manager of Idaho Public Television (IPTV), the state agency that provides broadcast, webcast and recorded video coverage of the proceedings of the state government known as the “Idaho In Session” service. Morrill notes that “we’ve really tried to open this up so citizens of the state can have reasonable access to their government.”
If new rules being proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, prevail (Senate Concurrent Resolution 130), recordings of Idaho governmental proceedings will be archived long term, while at the same time the access that Idahoans have to the proceedings of their government would become more restricted.
Under current operational policy, IPTV records the proceedings on the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but only retains them for a period of a few days. Davis has proposed that those recordings be retained long term.
“As I understand the proposal, the idea is really about preservation of those recordings,” Morrill said. “Merely archiving the recordings has more of a temporal nature to it, but the proposal is to preserve this content permanently, and I applaud the leaders who are interested in enhancing our access to the Legislature in this way.”
Yet another component of Davis’ proposals would also give members of the House and the Senate leadership the authority to decide whether or not recordings of the floor proceedings would be released to the public.
He’s also proposing that a legislative committee chairperson be given the authority to determine whether the audio of a committee hearing is streamed live online. The live audio streaming is also provided by IPTV. Noting that, historically, committee chairpersons have exercised this authority anyway, Davis explained last week in the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee that his proposal codifies what is already common practice. “If a committee chairperson doesn’t want a committee hearing streamed live, then they can simply have the audio turned off,” he told the committee.
Access to the proceedings of Idaho’s state government has been steadily expanding for the past 14 years via the “Idaho In Session” plan. In 1999 the program first began providing over-the-Internet audio streaming of House and Senate proceedings; In 2005 a static webcam was first installed in the House and the Senate (one camera in each chamber); In 2006, three cameras were installed in the House and the Senate; in 2008 the proceedings of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) were first distributed with audio streaming and one fixed webcam; and in 2010, with the renovation of the Capitol completed, two-camera video coverage of JFAC began, three camera coverage began from the Senate auditorium, and audio streaming from all legislative committee rooms was implemented. Statewide over-the-air broadcast coverage of the House and the Senate proceedings began in 2006.
Davis’ proposals would seem to represent a reversal of the 14-year policy toward “access,” and it has drawn mixed reaction from other Senate members.
“It is my opinion that archived video does in fact represent the official record of the Senate,” said Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Speaking to IdahoReporter.com about the proposed controls and restrictions on video recordings, Durst said that “it is also my opinion that the rule, as written, is unnecessarily restrictive. A legislator’s actions are public in nature and to require permission to access the record is antithetical to that standard.”
“This would not change anything about the kind of access that the citizenry has to committee hearings,” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told IdahoReporter.com last week when the rules changes were first proposed in the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee. “There are, however, instances when cutting the online audio is appropriate. As an example, I was recently in a committee where we had to discuss some rather ugly things about child abuse. We certainly weren’t going to cut off the discussion from the public, yet at the same time we didn’t necessarily want these graphic details streaming to the whole world, either.”
It is anticipated that Senate Concurrent Resolution 130 will be debated on the Senate floor Tuesday.