Originally Published: March 19, 2014
Webcasts provide transparency of important stage in legislative process during Sunshine Week
Groups urge passage of law requiring webcasting by entire legislature
Good government advocates from Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany and NYPIRG today used their phones to webcast assembly hearings demonstrating how easily and inexpensively the State Assembly can webcast their committee meetings. In doing so, the good government groups called upon the Assembly to pass a bill that would webcast their committee meetings and bring needed transparency and public accessibility to their proceedings. Committee meetings are part of the legislative process that bills proceed through before reaching the floor where they are voted on by the full body.
The advocates’ live recordings of committee meetings were webcast by Gotham Gazette (published by Citizens Union Foundation) during Sunshine Week – a week first organized in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to show that open government is good government. The good government groups’ actions highlighted the need for the Assembly to fully live up to the intent of the Open Meetings Law enabling the public “to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”
“The legislature needs to make all of its proceedings transparent to the people it serves, not simply the full meetings of both houses. Webcasting committee meetings will make it easier for the public, press and advocates to monitor government and see their elected representatives discuss and vote on legislation before it reaches the floor. If we can webcast with our phones, the Assembly should be able to webcast their committee hearings as is done by the State Senate, state agencies and the New York City Council,” said Alex Camarda of Citizens Union.
“Twenty state assemblies webcast and archive all of their committee hearings. It’s simple and low-cost and if the State Senate – which shares the same buildings – can do it, what exactly is the reason the Assembly can’t?” wondered Prudence Katze, Reinvent Albany’s Policy Coordinator.
The groups used their phones to webcast the committee meetings for free using a downloadable app known asUstream. While the groups are not recommending which vendor the Assembly might use to webcast, they released a document outlining an assessment of the pros and cons of webcasting services offered by three vendors – Ustream, Livestream and Bambuser. The State Senate currently uses Livestream to webcast its proceedings while the Assembly uses Granicus for webcasting its meetings of the entire body.
“Webcasting isn’t rocket science, and has become increasingly available through free, user-friendly mobile apps. The State Senate uses Livestream and Youtube and we just used our cell phones. The Assembly should look at these and other technologies to implement webcasting as soon as possible.” said Rachael Fauss, Policy and Research Manager at Citizens Union.
The good government groups called on the Assembly to pass A2097B/S3046C, a bill which, “requires that committee and floor votes be made available online and that session and committee meetings be webcast as is practicable.” The Senate has been webcasting and archiving their committee meetings since 2010 in an easily searchable format on theirwww.nysenate.gov website, as a result of the agreement stemming from the changes in Senate leadership during the 2009 coup.
The good government groups worked with Senator Carl Marcellino and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi to introduce a bill requiring the entire legislature webcast its proceedings and post committee votes online. The bill passed the Senate in 2013, and has been voted out of the Senate’s Governmental Operations Committee this session. The Assembly has indicated a preference for codify webcasting in the joint rules of the legislature but has not moved to do so in recent years despite advocacy by the good government community.
New York state agencies are legally required to webcast their public proceedings as a result of an executive order first proposed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer and continued by Governor Cuomo. As a result of advocacy by the good government groups, New York City passed a law in December requiring the City Council, city agencies, commissions, and task forces record their proceedings and post them on their websites. The New York City Council already webcasts its stated meetings, committee meetings and hearings, and now news conferences.