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Legislative TV not quite ‘must-see’

But pilot proposal would boost accessibility

By The Mercury

We’re under no illusion that a proposal for live streaming of at least some hearings of the Kansas Legislature will transform that body’s members into outstanding statesmen. Nevertheless, the proposal is worthy of support because it would make the Legislature at least a little more transparent and could help educate Kansans about the lawmaking processes in the state Capitol.

Initially, there were two bills, one from state Sen. Kay Wolf, a Prairie Village Republican, and one from state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican.  Because of costs, the latter’s initial plan to stream all committee hearings live online was scaled back into state Sen. Wolf’s proposal to set up four committee rooms for streaming.

The revised pilot program’s start-up cost would be $130,000 and $50,000 in subsequent years. It would include cameras and other equipment as well as someone to operate the system. Wiring for such events was one of the timely updates during Statehouse renovations. As for live broadcasts of action in both the Senate and House chambers and all committee rooms, that would cost about $880,000 a year.

According to published reports, state Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, is lukewarm at best about live streaming of legislators at work in committees. Among her concerns is that lawmakers might showboat or that the cameras’ presence could spark excessively heated debates. She also says the public has not shown great interest in live performances of the Legislature.

She might be right on all of those points, though some lawmakers don’t need cameras to showboat. Still,  that’s not reason enough to reject the pilot program, a modest enough proposal that just might spur legislators to be more effective. Instead of hot-dogging, they might strive to become more, rather than less, reasonable and diplomatic.

Moreover, although Kansans by the tens of thousands might not sit at their laptops during committee hearings, this pilot program would at least allow those who do have the time and the interest — and who might live too far from Topeka to sit in a meeting — to at least follow the proceedings as they occur.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Kansas is one of three states — Delaware and Virginia are the other two — that allow only audio streaming from the Senate or House floor. That would indicate that even limited live streaming of certain committee hearings would be a step forward in making the Legislature more accessible to the people its members represent. That’s worth doing.

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