The House and Senate have been discussing how and when to return to normal operations in the Statehouse. Media coverage has focused on ensuring that reporters have access to any meetings under the Golden Dome. And that’s important.
But there’s one thing that’s more important to far more people, and I haven’t heard beans about it lately.
After their return to the Statehouse, the Legislature should continue livestreaming all hearings and floor sessions, and archiving them all on YouTube.
This would be a bit of a logistical challenge; the committee rooms are cramped, and it’s tough to get a good angle that encompasses all parties. Decent audio quality is also an issue. But here’s the thing: There’s talk of setting up auxiliary rooms in the Statehouse where people could watch a hearing without being in the committee room. That would ease the habitual (and unhealthy) overcrowding at hearings, and provide access to those who feel a little iffy about breathing the same air as a couple dozen others in the teeth of cold and flu season.
Well, if they’re going to send video to auxiliary rooms, there is no reason on Earth why they can’t put the same feed on YouTube. No excuses.
The Statehouse is likely to reopen this summer or fall. There’s no doubt that the building will be open to reporters, lobbyists and members of the public. But the availability of all meetings on YouTube has been a great resource. Anyone with a decent internet connection can watch any hearing or floor session — in real time or at their convenience. Also, people all over the state have been able to testify without traveling to Montpelier.
I’ve used the YouTube archives to catch up on things I missed. Most dramatically, the archives made it possible to report in full on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s springtime flailings. I caught some of it live, but I needed to go back and watch earlier sessions to get the full picture. No doubt, some senators didn’t appreciate this kind of exposure. At one point, Judiciary chair Dick Sears warned his committee to watch what they said because everything was going straight to the web.
That’s ridiculous. Committee hearings and floor sessions are fundamentally public in nature. Every utterance is on the record — and recorded. Even in pre-Covid days, lawmakers would get caught saying stupid stuff. YouTube makes it easier, but killing the livestream doesn’t protect them.
Besides, it’s the People’s House. It’s not Dick Sears’ house. We elect these folks to serve us. If they are inconvenienced in the service of greater access, well, no sympathy here.
The person most likely to bear a grudge against livestreaming happens to be the most influential senator on the issue. Sen. Jeanette White, who said some stupid and/or awful stuff in Judiciary hearings, happens to be chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee. Any move to continue YouTubing would go through her committee. And White is not shy about using her clout when something might affect her personally. For example, she’s been opposed to tougher rules on ethics, financial disclosure and campaign finance.
If White chooses to be a roadblock, Senate leadership ought to intervene. There is no excuse for not bringing the Legislature into the internet age.