.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

COLUMN: Webcasting in the Legislature

-A A +A
By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — A gutsy state lawmaker has forced the door open ever so slightly to audio and video transmissions from state legislative committee hearings.

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, went out and bought a webcam and has begun streaming video and audio from the committees on which she serves.

The Webcasting was unauthorized so there is no telling how long it will continue but it did get some wheels turning that had been stuck in neutral for years.

Following Arnold-Jones’ action, House leaders quickly proposed a rule to permit Webcasting with the permission of committee chairmen. That, in itself, would do no good. When she set up her equipment at the first meeting of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, Chairman Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, asked her twice to turn it off.

She didn’t. So House Speaker Ben Lujan, also a committee member, scolded her for not asking permission. Of course, had Arnold-Jones asked permission, it would have been denied and the Legislature would have remained stuck in neutral for another four years.

It took someone sufficiently courageous to stand up to the House leadership and force the issue. Plenty of praise and punishment is sure to be in store for Rep. Arnold-Jones.

The media also came in for criticism for playing up the issue and being the only ones interested in Webcasting or broadcasting legislative and committee sessions.

That’s crazy. Computers are the competition. With scarcely any promotion, the Webcast site, www.nmgov.tv, had more than 2,000 hits during its first week.

Another Web site asked viewers whether they supported or opposed legislative Webcasting. The vote was 100 percent positive. Arnold-Jones says she decided to do the Webcasting after being encouraged by constituents.

The state GOP has been having some fun with the issue. It isn’t completely a partisan issue. It is more a leadership issue. Senate minority leader Stuart Ingle is a vocal opponent but it’s an issue Republicans can pick up and run with because the legislative leadership is almost totally Democratic.

Early in the session Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, complained that Webcasting might catch him asleep during a late night session of the House. The following day, the state GOP delivered coffee and mugs to Democrats on the House Rules Committee which will be considering the Webcasting issue.

The two most vocal proponents of Webcasting have been Rep. Arnold-Jones and Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque. Words had gotten them nowhere until Arnold-Jones decided to take action.

The House Rules Committee quickly appointed a subcommittee to consider Webcasting. One of the members is Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who is also is House majority  floor leader. Martinez has been making positive comments about Webcasting, which provides some hope that a reasonable rule may be passed for the House.

Some form of audio coverage might start as early as this week. But don’t hold your breath. Technical problems may cause a delay. Someone may want to ask Rep. Arnold-Jones for guidance. She sets up her audio and video system in a matter of minutes.

The Senate is more of a problem. Some Democratic senators worry that Webcasting their sessions would give the governor an unfair advantage because he would learn their secrets. But then all sessions of both houses are piped throughout the capitol building to all offices, including the governor’s, for anyone to hear.

Two other worries of Democratic senators are that they will be embarrassed by saying something wrong during debate and that Webcasting will encourage some senators to “bloviate” even more than normal.

OK guys, there is a message hidden in there. Stop and think about it. Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell has. He argued that the Webcasting should cause senators to talk less and be more careful of what they say lest they embarrass themselves.

Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.