Each April, a few weeks after the year’s legislative session has ended, the West Virginia Legislative Auditor’s office sends out an email soliciting suggestions on how to improve the Legislature’s website. This year, we want to collect ideas from you, the citizens and voters of West Virginia, to share with the Auditor’s office.
At the Hub, we see the Legislature’s website as the key resource to share information, in real time, with interested stakeholders across the state. It’s the way you can stay plugged into what’s happening at the State Capitol – especially if you don’t have the time to be present in the halls of the State Senate and House of Delegates during the winter months.
For us, there is no more interesting question than how the State can continue to improve this critical mechanism that provides the primary unfiltered access to information about what activities are being conducted by our elected decision-makers.
We’ve been appreciative of the steps that the Legislature has taken over the past few years to improve the access and transparency that is provided through the website. We’ve been especially excited (and mentioned at least a couple of times) about the efforts, taken in partnership with WV Public Broadcasting, to improve audio from committee meetings and to provide live-streaming of floor sessions and public hearings.
But unaddressed challenges remain. And they are significant information barriers – making it difficult for even the most diligent legislative advocate to keep track of the key actions that are happening each day in the Legislature. The challenges we’ve noted fall into two main categories: Committee Meetings and the Audio/Video Feed.
The agendas that are set out for each committee meeting serve as critical information for the public to understand what topics will be covered in each meeting, what bills will be discussed and possibly voted on, what speakers will be presenting, among other information.
Especially as it gets later in the session, and things get more hectic, posting of agendas gets less consistent and often does not happen until right before a committee meets – or even sometimes after the meeting has started.
Committee meetings are covered by live audio feeds. You can listen to any committee meeting as it happens over the Legislature’s website. This is a great service but if you can’t listen to the meeting as it happens, you miss out.
There are a couple of ways the Legislature can solve this challenge. A simple one would be to publicly post committee meeting minutes after each meeting.
Finally, there has, in the past, been some inconsistency between the schedule of committee meetings on various pages of the Legislature’s website (schedules are included on the Streaming Audio/Video page, the Bulletin Board and the individual Committee pages.) Synchronized updates across the different pages of the website would clear up the inconsistencies and remove the confusion they create.
Not very long ago if you wanted to find out anything about what was happening in the Legislature, you had to walk the halls and
The major improvement that could be undertaken – the one thing that would have a dramatic impact for anyone interested in following the activity of the Legislature – would be for the legislative website to provide recorded videos of committee meetings and floor sessions.
The Kanawha County Commission uses a great tool on their website (though it often takes them two weeks to upload each Commission meeting video). Their commission meetings are recorded and then linked to the meeting’s agenda. On the website, the video and the agenda are displayed side-by-side and you can click on each point of the meeting agenda and it will start the video at that point in the meeting.
Live video streaming is currently provided for every floor session, and as of last year for many public hearings. These live videos are a great way to stay plugged in to some of the most critical, interesting, and explosive debates that happen in the Legislature.
But if you aren’t available at 11 a.m. each day, you miss the video. And if you (like us) can’t stay up past 11 p.m. to watch floor debates as the session hits its final jam-packed days, you miss out too. Providing a recorded version of these videos – even if only for a period of time – would be a significant improvement.
Additionally, the rubber really hits the road with bill making in Committee meetings. Much is lost in the audio that would be better captured through video feeds. Providing video feeds of each committee meeting would take a significant increase in tech capacity, equipment and staffing, so it’s unlikely to be on the plate for the near future. But it’s a worthy goal to continue working towards in our efforts to improve access to state decision-making.
Maybe the rapid pace of technology development has created too high of expectations in us about what we should expect from our most eminent elected state body. We take the position that high expectations are necessary to create a culture of excellence. Help us build up those expectations.