This article by my AJC colleagues does a good job of explaining the Georgia Senate’s anti-public attitude toward the broadcasting or live-streaming of its committee hearings. I wanted to add my own two cents about the pitiful arguments offered within it by senators in defense of this indefensible stance.
“Capitol leaders say they are trying to balance being accessible to the public while honoring the idea of decorum and tradition.”
This is simply silly. The only reason this “tradition” exists is because the technology was not available, or at least not cost-effective, in decades past. As for decorum, allowing people to watch hearings from other locations, rather than trying to cram themselves into committee rooms — which, let’s be honest, are sometimes chosen precisely because they are small and won’t allow for many people to attend the hearing — would enhance decorum. To the extent officials think it is somehow against their fragile sensibilities to have citizens recording or live-streaming hearings with their own phones, think how much better it would be to have a single person doing the job on behalf of the chamber, from a pre-arranged spot in the room chosen to maximize the camera’s perspective while minimizing any distraction it might cause.
And I’ll let you be the judge of whether the scene in the photo below — which I took just before the beginning of the first committee hearing on the casino bill, held in one of the medium-size committee rooms despite what everyone knew would be enormous interest in the matter — looks like “decorum” to you:
Note that, other than a few of the people (not all of them by a long shot) sitting down when the hearing began, this is what it looked like for the entirety of the hearing as a group of mostly lobbyists, journalists and Baptists tried to watch the proceedings.
“In the past, Senate leaders have cited the cost of wiring nearly a dozen committee meeting rooms both in the state Capitol and across the street in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, where many members have offices.”
As the story goes on to note, many of the committee rooms in question have already been wired for video because the House broadcasts its meetings from them. But the faux controversies that have arisen this year as citizens and some senators have tried to live-stream hearings have also undermined this argument. A relatively late-model smartphone and decent WiFi render an expensive solution to this problem unnecessary.
“In response to questions last week, the Senate leadership team, including President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, and (Rules Committee Chairman Jeff) Mullis, issued a joint statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“‘All Senate meetings are open to the public,’ it said. ‘Any citizen is welcome to attend and be part of the process.'”
If you live in Duluth, and don’t have a job or family obligations that tie you down to a certain location during working hours, then maybe, just maybe, you will find this answer acceptable. (Maybe.) But if you live in, say, Chickamauga, as Mullis does, then you might find it a bit insulting to be told you need to spend almost four hours driving round-trip (per Google Maps) in order to watch debate on a particular bill that might last no more than five or 10 minutes. Not to mention more far-flung locales such as Savannah or Valdosta or any number of others.
“‘If we don’t have rules, if we don’t have laws, if we don’t have order, we have chaos,’ said state Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus. ‘The General Assembly is not the place for that kind of chaos. There are rules. We all have to follow the rules. They are laid out perfectly in front of you, and you need to be able to follow them.'”
We also have laws, laid out perfectly in front of us, which we all have to follow. And yet, Kirk and his colleagues spend three months out of the year crafting and passing new statutes or revisions to old ones to change the laws we must know and follow. Is it really so outrageous to think this rule needs to be changed as well?