Editorial: Open government

Providing better public access to government proceedings is always a positive step.

“Transparency is neat.”

We agree with that sentiment expressed by Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, as she discussed her bill to require live audio and video broadcasts of all committee meetings and House and Senate sessions in the Kansas Legislature.

It’s called the Transparency and Accountability Act and has a broad spectrum of sponsors: Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. The goal of the bill is to give everyone access via the Internet to all the official proceedings of the Kansas Legislature.

The audio of Kansas House and Senate sessions already is streamed live, but Clayton said video is needed because audio-only broadcasts often can be confusing to listeners. Thanks to the recently completed renovation of the Kansas Statehouse, all of the committee rooms already are wired for both audio and video so the only additional cost would be the purchase of cameras for committee rooms, which Clayton estimated could be accomplished for about $10,000.

Providing video access may be one of the most tangible benefits to Kansans across the state of the costly renovation project.

It’s unlikely that Kansas legislative committee hearings will draw a large number of viewers, but the broadcasts would provide important access for people who want to follow specific legislative issues but find it difficult or impossible to attend committee hearings in person. In addition to listening to testimony, viewers will be able to observe and listen to committee members, which Clayton speculated also might provide legislators an incentive to pay closer attention to the proceedings rather than “playing so much Candy Crush on their phones.”

That would be good.

An official with the National Conference of State Legislatures told the Journal-World that Kansas would not be alone in broadcasting committee hearings, but the step had raised a number of concerns in other states. Some legislators contend that having a camera in the room might intimidate people who come to testify, while others feared their comments would be taken out of context and used against them in a political campaign. Neither of those concerns seem compelling. People offering testimony already are identified and a camera wouldn’t seem to add much to a committee atmosphere that many of those people already find intimidating. As far as excerpts being used in future campaigns, that may already be happening thanks to the video-capable cell phones that have invaded every corner of our existence.

As noted above, live legislative video-streaming probably would draw relatively few viewers, but it will be there for people who want to observe and monitor their state government in action. That seems like a valid way to spend $10,000 of taxpayer money.