If you’ve been following the West Virginia state legislature for the past 10 years, you know how far the state has come in terms of improving access and transparency to the Legislature.
Many of these technology improvements have been in the works for the last five years; it’s just in the last two years that these efforts have finally begun to really pay off.
We were reminded of how far we’ve come as a state while following the action of 60th day of the session on Twitter. Ann Ali of the WV State Journal remembered that, not that long ago, there was no way to follow the action of the Legislature from anywhere outside the State Capitol.
The Legislature has only had an audio sound system capable of streaming audio via the internet since 2004, and only began streaming floor sessions and committee meetings online for the public in 2010 (and 2011 in the Senate). At the time, this seemed like a huge step forward for governmental transparency – especially considering that committee meetings weren’t even open to the public in the 1960s.
It’s easy to lose sight of progress once it’s been made. Which is why it’s incredible to think that just a year ago the Legislature started providing online streaming videos of the House and Senate floor sessions on their website. And this year we saw an even greater upgrade thanks to West Virginia Public Broadcasting archiving the legislative sessions on their Youtube site.
So, yep, we’ve made some progress this year. But we know there are still some steps we could take as a state to improve access and transparency.
And now is the time to share those ideas. Each spring, immediately following the Legislative Session, the Director of the Legislative Auditor’s Office asks interested stakeholders what ideas we have to improve the legislative website.
We’ve got some ideas. And we want to know which you think are the most important. Please take a second and rank them for us.
Video & Audio Archiving of Committee Meetings
West Virginia was ahead of the curve in providing audio access to legislative committee meetings at the beginning of this decade. Let’s not fall behind now in this moment when tech is booming.
At least one camera should be located in each of the House and Senate committee rooms. That sounds like a lot but you’re actually only talking about 6 cameras in total (4 on the House side; 2 on the Senate side).
Get them up and running so we can see the real deal lawmaking that happens in the committees. It’s often difficult to follow what’s happening in the committees by audio – especially when you want to be listening to committees that are meeting at the exact same time.
There’s been talk about doing this for years. This would spell huge progress for access to all parts of the state lawmaking process.
Work Out the Kinks in the House & Senate Floor Session Video Archiving
This is a recommendation for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, as they do the archiving process of the floor sessions.
Have you taken a look at videos that WVPBS has posted on their Youtube site? They clock in at 5, 8, even 12 hours long.
Want to find the discussion of the bill you were hoping to catch in the House or Senate chamber that day? Good luck. I hope you have a lot of time. You’ll have to wade through the entire tape to find it.
And that’s assuming it’s in there – some of the floor sessions are not included because WVPBS goes back and forth between the sessions as they happen.
We’d like to see them take this year’s good system a step further into greatness. Archive the entire floor sessions for each side (separately, so that nothing gets cut out) and provide a way for us to link directly to the parts of the session we want to see.
Sounds hard, right? It did to us too – until we saw a place where they are already doing it. And doing it well.
The Kanawha County Commission has a video archiving system on their website (above) that stores the videos, along with the agenda for the day (what would be called the “Calendar” at the statehouse.) The agenda contains links to each part of the meeting. When you click on these links, they take you directly to that section in the video.
This seems like magic to us but our tech nerd friends told us recently that it’s possibly not much more than a ‘right-click and paste the URL’ process.
Imagine how amazing that would be if WVPBS had that set up on their website. Then we’d be rolling.
Improve the Bill Search Function
In the age of Google, our ability to find things by intuitive search terms is the foundation to our functionality. In such an age, the Bill Status search page on the Legislature’s website is just not cutting it.
Want to find the brunch bill? Don’t search for the word “brunch.” You won’t find it. Same with Uber.
Wanting to do research about the substance abuse bills that got introduced? Don’t search for the term opioid, or you’ll end up having to wade through this mess.
Where do we even start with this? There are people out there who are experts in creating functional online search systems. Let’s get them in to help improve the website’s search system.
A first step could be having the links take you to the full (and very helpful) bill status page for the bill that you click on. This would be a huge improvement over what we have now: a link to a random pdf stored on the site, which may or may not be the most up-to-date version of the bill, and which is not linked to any of the other information relating to that bill.
We know that’s just a start. Have you tried to look up a bill on the Legislature’s website and utterly failed? Tell us how it could be made better, here.
What else could be improved? Let us know. Please take our brief survey, or tell us in the comments, below. We’ll pass it on to the Auditor’s office.