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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Virginia is In Minority (1 of only 11 states) with No Legislative Video, Audio Archives


Update: 

In Virginia General Assembly, many bills die by stealth, February 26, 2015
 

Original Post:

Yep, for 6 out of the last 7 session I’ve recorded the audio of every Committee hearing I’ve attended and testified at. (See article below) 

This year I bought the cheapest GoPro Camera I could find and a small tripod planning on videoing each hearing and uploading it to this website but based on the only location video cameras were allowed to be set-up in the Committee rooms and the short record time on my inexpensive camera, that didn’t pan out this year. 

Virginia shouldn’t just archive the video of chamber/floor sessions on-line but they should record every Committee hearing where public testimony is heard, stream it live and archive it on-line by end of business, everyday of session! 

Citizens across the Commonwealth that can't travel the Richmond should be able to watch proposed legislation "die" and "move forward" as it is happening and after the fact days, weeks or months later.  

Transparency!  Accountability!  Open Government!  Integrity! 

Come on Virginia!

Mary
 

Va. in minority with no legislative video, audio archives, February 24, 2015
By Patrick Wilson

Waldo Jaquith started posting video of state House and Senate floor sessions on his website as a hobby around 2007 or 2008. 

"I thought I'd have to do this for a year or two and then the General Assembly would say, 'Look, this guy can do it in his spare time. Maybe we should just put up a video ourselves.' " 

Seven years later, Jaquith is still doing it. The state is not. And that puts Virginia in the minority.

The commonwealth is one of only 11 states that don't offer the public archived video or audio of legislative floor proceedings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Viewers on the General Assembly's website can watch a live feed of the House of Delegates and Senate, but once it's over, the video is gone.

"It doesn't make a bit of sense," said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who has tried and failed several times in recent years to convince the legislature to pay for posting the video online. "You would think that it would not be a big deal." 

In an era when Congress and many local governments, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake, provide constituents with live coverage and online access to video of past meetings, some activist groups and lawmakers say the General Assembly needs to be more open. 

Thirty-nine states produce live webcasts or audio of some or all committee hearings, and 33 states provide an online archive of past hearings. 

Virginia doesn't record or broadcast legislative committee hearings, where testimony on bills is presented. If a bill is discussed and killed during a committee hearing, a citizen would have to be present to hear and see what happened.  

There are no transcripts made other than committees working on legislative district boundaries.
 

 
Offering a video repository online would be a way to help people understand the process, especially if it included testimony from committee hearings, said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. 

"Certainly the people back home are concerned about not only what their elected officials are doing but what the state is doing as a whole," she said. "Most of the real work gets done in the committee sessions. That's when the bulk of testimony is going to be taken." 

In addition to online live broadcasts, the General Assembly has a contract with WCVE-TV, a public television station, to air two hours of the state Senate every day on sister station WCVW. 

Jaquith has for years been buying from the state its own DVDs of the General Assembly daily sessions, which he posts on his website, Richmond Sunlight. 

The Albemarle County resident said he began watching livestreams of the General Assembly around 2007 on what was then a postage-stamp sized video. A friend began recording audio from the livestream and Jaquith posted it online. 

Jaquith began paying a bulk rate to the state to get the videos. He still receives DVDs in the mail, which he loads into his computer and converts the video for the Web. They take days to upload. He also posts them at www.archive.org so they're maintained permanently. He covers part of his costs with grants and donations. 

So why doesn't the state provide videos on its own? 

"The House has not offered an online archive simply for cost and resource reasons," said Matt Moran, a spokesman for Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, who instituted the live video stream in the House. Archiving video online will be "actively explored moving forward" by the House clerk, Moran said.

Although the House and Senate floor are set up for broadcasting of audio and video, committee rooms in the General Assembly Building are not. Some committee rooms are equipped to record audio, but the technology is old and couldn't be used to post the audio online, said House Clerk G. Paul Nardo. 

Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, said an ongoing, two-year study of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act is expected to include a look at how the state could record and document legislative sessions. 

Jaquith contends the General Assembly has a top-notch IT staff that could easily do what he does. And YouTube offers a free service to help governments upload video online, he said. 

Lawmakers are "not unable. They're just unwilling to do this," he said. 

"The idea that people want to watch it doesn't make sense to them because they regard their jobs as perfectly accessible."