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Unfinished business: House must address recording prohibition

Unfinished business: House must address recording prohibition

Dustin Hurst
March 19, 2016
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March 19, 2016

The 2016 Idaho legislative session, likely to conclude in the next week, will be no different from any other year: Some very good bills and, thank goodness, many bad ones will die with the final drop of the gavel.

Among the good that deserve not just a hearing, but action, is House Rule 75. Though this rule concerns government-transparency and accountability, it has yet to make the docket. The House and its leadership must address this rule before they head home to plant crops and hit the campaign trail.

In sum, the House must amend or completely repeal House Rule 75. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

House Rule 75 prevents members of the public from capturing video or audio clips during House committee hearings. To be clear, one can do this -- but first you must get permission, from the committee chair.

This rule, which I broke Thursday using my iPad and Periscope app during a House State Affairs meeting, flies in the face of government transparency and accountability. It’s an affront to members of the public who want to keep records of what their legislators are doing for them -- or to them -- in committee hearings.

Besides that, the rule is impractical. As technology continues to leap forward, devices will become smaller, more ubiquitous and more difficult to monitor. Seriously. Google, Microsoft and other tech companies have been, and are, developing glasses-like computing devices that can do all the things smartphones can. How will committee chairs stop a member of the public, who sports a HoloLens device, from capturing video and audio during a hearing?

House Rule 75 is deferential to government and its operators. It forces the unwashed masses, you know, taxpayers, constituents, We the People, to kneel before government officers and ask permission to record how the state is spending our money and making laws that affect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The rule should work exactly the opposite; it should default toward resident access and government transparency.

The House appeared ready to address the rule earlier this year. For a fleeting moment, for a night, a mid-session Ways and Means Committee agenda listed a new measure that related to House Rule 75. The next morning, the panel had scrubbed the proposal -- whatever it was -- from the agenda. I haven’t heard or seen anything about it since. A committee chairman told me this week he hasn’t heard anything about it, either. Curious.

Though some might view this as a minor issue when compared to setting health-care policy, cutting taxes or restoring gun rights, the House must act to allow residents to hold legislators accountable in all public forums.

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