Nebraskans would have expanded access to video of legislative proceedings under a bill heard Feb. 8 by the Executive Board.
Nebraska Public Media currently broadcasts and live-streams video coverage of legislative committee hearings and floor debate. LB777, introduced by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would require NPM to develop and maintain a publicly accessible, indexed digital archive of that coverage, beginning in January 2023.
The archive would not be considered the official record of legislative proceedings and archival video from previous years would be added as available.
Constituents want a better way to follow what happens at the Capitol, Brewer said, especially those who live far from Lincoln. While written transcripts of all legislative activity currently are available to the public, he said, easier access to committee hearings and floor debate would provide greater transparency.
“We’ve built this barrier of an electronic system that does not allow them to see what we do here,” Brewer said.
Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek of Omaha testified in support of the proposal. Illness, disability and inclement weather are some of the many reasons that an individual who is interested in the Legislature may not be able to attend legislative committee hearings and floor debate sessions in person, she said.
Waiting for a transcript takes time, she said, and an individual’s cable tv or other recording technology isn’t always reliable.
“Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral requires a second house,” Maxwell-Ostdiek said. “It doesn’t work for Nebraskans the best it can when we are not involved.”
Representing the Platte Institute, Nicole Fox also testified in favor of LB777. Members of the public often are interested in multiple committee hearings that may be happening simultaneously, she said, and an easily accessible archive would facilitate citizen participation in the process.
Nebraska is one of only four states that do not make audio or video archives of floor debate available to the public, she said.
“[We] appreciate the great work done by Nebraska Public Media to provide access to real-time coverage, but why not take things a step further and find a way for hard-working Nebraska taxpayers to be able to have access to recordings of those proceedings after the fact?” Fox said.
Mark Leonard, general manager of Nebraska Public Media, testified in a neutral capacity. Leonard said NPM believes in government transparency and is not opposed to LB777, but noted that there are implementation challenges.
Developing a system that is cloud-based, secure, searchable and immediately available would be costly, he said, and becomes a “permanent commitment” to an ever-increasing amount of storage for the archive to be kept in perpetuity.
Leonard said NPM’s research indicates an approximate cost of $550,000 to procure and implement the system and approximately $500,000 annually to maintain the archive.
“You’ve got up to 12 streams simultaneously that are going into this third-party server,” Leonard said. “They have to be tagged by date, they have to be tagged by bill number — anything else that you want to be searchable — and stored … it’s a card catalogue, in effect.”
No one testified in opposition and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.