George Will - Another failed attempt to record legislative committees

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COLUMBUS -- Democrats in the Ohio Senate tried the other day to push a law change to allow the recording and broadcast of legislative committee hearings, via the Ohio Channel.

The doomed-from-the-start amendment was offered by Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, as part of one of the mid-biennium budget bills moving through the legislature.

I say "doomed from the start" because lawmakers have made it pretty clear, at this point, that they don't want full recordings of their committee deliberations, so any such amendments or separate legislation probably won't get more than cursory consideration.

Tavares offered a decent enough explanation of the need for committee recordings. Consider, for example, the number of hearings that take place during the day, at times when most working Ohioans can't attend.

"Most people don't have the flexibility to take off the whole day to drive down to Columbus, Ohio," Tavares said, adding later, "One of the ways that we could allow our public and our press throughout the state of Ohio to participate in the discussions so that people understand how we got to these decisions on the floor ... is to have the committees televised."

The Ohio Channel already is on hand for Ohio House and Senate sessions. Lawmakers also have allowed the broadcast of the House's finance committee.

But the cameras aren't rolling for other House committees or any Senate committees. Sometimes, reporters are asked to take their cameras out of hearing rooms during deliberations.

There isn't a complete video record of legislative deliberations -- and that's a travesty in this day and age, given the rooms are wired and the state already has the equipment to record and stream these sessions.

"The truth of the matter is, we have no record," said Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, a former congressman. "We have no public record of what we say nor of what our intent is. In at least one other place where I used to work there is a public record that is used as a matter of public record in courts of law and many other places as a matter of legislative intent. It is an enormously useful device. ... Simply recording the words that we have and spreading them on the pages of a journal through stenographers or through a recorded record would much improve not only the work that we do but the history of the body in which we serve."

Tavares said 23 other states have video recordings of their Senate committees, and nine others allow audio recordings.

"We work in a building where every room has the capability to record every hearing," Tavares said. "So why are we not using the technology we have at our fingertips?"

The short debate on the amendment, unfortunately, offered little in the way of explanation from lawmakers who oppose broadcasting committee hearings.

Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, pinpointed ample reason for rejecting Tavares' amendment, based on how it was written. For one thing, the wording, he said, focused only on Ohio House committees.

"I do not think it appropriate for this body to make rules for the Ohio House of Representatives, and we certainly would not appreciate were they to try to do the same for us," he said.

Seitz also noted that the way the amendment was written could open caucus meetings and other panels to broadcast.

"On those grounds, without debating my good friend on the merits of televising Senate standing committee meetings, I think the amendment frankly fails to accomplish exactly what the gentlelady wishes to accomplish ...," he said.

The amendment failed, and we remain without much in the way of public explanation by lawmakers for blocking the broadcast of committees.

(Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.)

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