TOPEKA — Legislators and broadcasters voiced their support this week for a bill that would give the public access to legislative committee meetings in real time via the Internet.
Senate Bill 413 would create the Transparency and Accountability Act. It would require, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, that all legislative committee meetings taking place in four designated rooms would be broadcasted live with video and audio on the Kansas Legislature website.
State Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, and author of the bill, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee that legislators have the responsibility to ensure transparency in the legislative process.
“I believe that we should welcome the opportunity to allow our constituents to better understand the process,” Wolf said.
State Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, another author of the bill, said that although some legislators might be apprehensive about being on camera, it would provide the real story of what is actually said in the meetings.
“I think this protects us from things being taken out of context and allows us to broadcast the actual proceedings as opposed to misinterpretations thereof,” Clayton said.
The two-year pilot project would cost $177,920 in its first year and $50,390 the second year to cover maintenance and operation costs.
“I believe it’s money that’s well spent, in fact, I believe it’s money that we really can’t afford not to spend,” Wolf said.
Efforts to become more transparent and provide live broadcasting were attempted in 2004 and in 2008. Jim Miller, the legislative chief information technology officer, said the previous projects failed because of limited technologies and resources at the Statehouse. However, the $325 million capitol restoration project installed all the necessary wiring to successfully install the broadcasting equipment.
The rooms being considered for broadcast installation include the House Appropriations, Senate Federal and State, Senate Education, Senate Ways and Means, and the old Supreme Court room, Miller said.
Jim Ogle, general manager of WIBW-TV in Topeka and board chairman of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, said live streaming would help news gathering because news stations lack the resources to send reporters to the capitol on an ongoing basis.
“Broadcasters can’t cover the Legislature in a way that I think it deserves,” Ogle testified. “This bill would not only help the broadcasters cover more legislative news, but other media as well.”
Shawn Wheat, journalist and director of social media at WIBW NewsNow, said the broadcasts would allow more citizens to interpret the news themselves instead of solely relying on journalists.
“I can get stuff wrong, anybody in the journalism world can get something wrong or misunderstand something,” he said. “This [bill] gives people the opportunity to listen, to be a part of the process.”
Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert encouraged an expansion of the bill to include all committee rooms and the House and Senate chambers. He recommended covering the additional cost with leftover cash balances from the Department of Revenue’s tax credit fund that he said are unnecessary.
State Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, agreed with the idea to implement live streaming in all rooms.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s commit to doing it, do it right, and let’s make it available to everybody,” Olson said.
It would be best to start by implementing broadcasting in the four rooms because it would be more manageable, Miller said.
The Senate committee was expected to deliberate on the bill and the proposed amendment before advancing it to the full Senate.