Friday, October 04, 2013

Ohio should act quickly to broadcast House hearings

My latest from Ohio Watchdog:

OHIO CHANNEL: Ohioans may soon
be able to view committee
 hearings as well as general
 House sessions if Rep.
 Dan Ramos’ bill is passed.
Rep. Dan Ramos is right. All Ohio House legislative hearings should be broadcast and made available to the public.
Ramos, D-Lorain, is sponsoring H.B. 262which would require the Ohio government telecommunications service to broadcast all 23 standing committee meetings as they occur.
Too bad his bill doesn’t include the Senate.
So far, he has 11 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, but there should be more – from both sides of the aisle.
“Ensuring transparency in and accessibility to government is one of the primary responsibilities we have as elected officials to the taxpayers across this state,” Ramos said in announcing the bill.
He knows – as do all legislators – that not everyone can travel to Columbus to hear testimony or take part in the legislative process.
Too often, Ohioans are surprised by new bills they only hear about after they’ve been passed. Their ability to weigh in on pending legislation or communicate with their legislators about what’s been said in a hearing is virtually non-existent unless they, or someone they know, was there.
“Ohioans still deserve access to their state government,” Ramos said.
If the bill passes, residents can be more actively involved in the process, rather than getting in after the fact.
The Ohio Channel already airs full voting sessions of the House and Senate — theHouse Finance and Appropriations Committee hearings were broadcast so Ohioans could see the budget process in action.
The best part about the broadcasts is they’re streamed live online and archived, so you can watch at your convenience.
But how much will it cost?
Well, the equipment needed to air all the committee hearings was bought under H.B. 562 in 2008, but it’s been sitting mostly unused in state storage. It was, however, used for this year’s finance hearings.
Since the roughly $300,000 in equipment is paid for and the Ohio Channel infrastructure is in place, it shouldn’t cost anything more to place the cameras in the committee rooms and turn them on.
“As legislators, we shouldn’t be picking and choosing which committees are broadcast,” Ramos said.
Indeed, and others agree.
Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, a nonprofit advocacy group, said his group called for the committee hearings to be broadcast two sessions ago, when it was clear the equipment was available but wasn’t being used.
“Anytime the public can see government through the light of day, it’s a win for the public,” he said.
John McAvoy, a spokesman for the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, was equally supportive.
“If I wish to be actively involved in these proceedings, I must drive seven hours round trip to listen and participate, or wait for a summary from Gongwer (a legislative reporting service) or transcripts from the website,” he said. “This would significantly add transparency and, more importantly, knowledgeable, informed voters to the governance process.”
The bill was introduced Sept. 10 and has not yet been assigned to a committee, but the House did just return to session, so the assignment should happen shortly.
For Ohioans, it can’t be too soon.

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