WE supported legislation this year applying open meetings and open records laws to the Legislature. That didn't happen, but a new infusion of cash gives lawmakers, particularly those in the Senate, the opportunity to increase transparency.
This year's budget agreement included $1 million extra for both the Oklahoma House and the Senate. Now that the Senate has extra money, it should use new technology to at least match what the House provides in terms of public access to the legislative process.
For three years, the Oklahoma House has had live video streaming of all floor sessions, with archived video available on-demand through the chamber's website. The Senate should consider a similar upgrade. Currently, the Senate streams floor activity using two cameras, but those cameras provide only an extremely wide shot of the floor. In comparison, you can recognize specific lawmakers when you watch debate on the House system.
Furthermore, while the Senate maintains audio archives of all floor activity and makes that material available upon request, the House has floor archives for every session since 2005 posted online (audio only for 2005-2009, and video from 2010 to present). To be able to watch/listen to floor debate on demand is no small thing and an invaluable resource for citizens. Most Oklahomans work for a living. They can't watch the mid-day sessions live, but that should not mean they can't easily review a debate at their own convenience.
The Senate does stream video from its two largest committee rooms; the House merely streams audio. However, the Senate doesn't archive that material online. The House does. This is another area where the Senate should consider an upgrade.
Both chambers post floor votes online in real time and maintain an archive of those votes. However, the House also provides that service for committee votes. Again, the Senate should invest in technology allowing real-time posting of committee votes.
The Senate deserves credit for maintaining digital audio recordings of press conferences, as well as question-and-answer sessions that are posted online along with press releases. And both chambers enable anyone to view or download legislation.
For understandable reasons, the Senate has done things on the cheap in recent years. Its efforts were sufficient to earn Freedom of Information's 2008 Sunshine Award. However, the gap between the two chambers has grown as the House has continued to advance transparency through the use of modern technology.
The House can do more, but the need for greater transparency in the Senate is more glaring. With this year's budget increase, the House appropriation is now $15,574,682 (or $154,204 per lawmaker) and the Senate budget is $12,171,789 (or $253,578 per senator). On a per-member basis, the Senate has a clear cash advantage and should use some of that money to boost transparency.
The public pays for that budget, so the people should have easy access to legislative activity.