Dragging the Legislature into the 21st Century

Posted 1/22/2009 02:26:00 PM

Rep. Arnold-Jones plans to revolt against legislative leaders by broadcasting her committee meetings online.

State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones certainly isn’t the first lawmaker in New Mexico to push for webcasting of legislative proceedings, but she’s the one with the most original idea yet to make it happen.

Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, bought a webcam and set up her own Web site that will allow her to stream live video and audio over the Internet from the two committees on which she sits -- Taxation and Revenue and Voters and Elections. You can visit the Web site by clicking here.

She plans to begin broadcasting online when both committees meet for the first time -- tax and revenue Monday at 1:30 p.m. and voters and elections Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. The only remaining question is whether legislative leaders, including House Speaker Ben Lujan, will try to stop her.

Lujan hasn’t returned a phone call seeking comment, but it’s no secret that he and other legislative leaders have killed attempts to begin webcasting from the House and Senate floors for years. The Legislature appropriated $75,000 in 2005 to purchase and install the equipment necessary to webcast, but neither chamber has ever appropriated the minimal funding that would be required to operate the equipment.

And legislative leaders from both parties have made blatant attempts to kill the project despite having the funding to purchase equipment. In 2007, legislative leaders opted against purchasing and installing the equipment in time for use during the 2008 session. Then, in January 2008, legislative leaders voted to direct staff to begin the process of purchasing and installing the equipment, but many of those same leaders voted against a memorial during the 2008 regular session that expressed support for webcasting Senate proceedings.

The memorial passed 27-13 despite the objections of Senate leaders.

So they found another way to kill the plan. After the cameras were installed and ready to go, they directed staff to uninstall them late last year with the excuse that they can’t afford the project at a time when they have to cut the state budget.

The resistance to webcasting is even more apparent on the House side, where leaders didn’t ever allow the purchase of equipment for webcasting, opting to instead let the House portion of the 2005 appropriation to expire. Currently, the House doesn’t have a way to purchase the equipment to webcast even if its leaders were to decide that they want to do it.

What are legislative leaders afraid of?

As someone who lives 300 miles from Santa Fe, I can personally speak to how webcasting of legislative proceedings is beneficial to the public. And it’s easy to do. It’s done in Washington. In Las Cruces, the city council’s meetings are broadcast online and on television. The county commission’s are online. Even the public school board’s are on TV.

There is no good reason that the Legislature isn’t already doing this. Are legislative leaders really that afraid of people having better access to what’s going on in Santa Fe? If so, why?

I want to applaud the rebel Arnold-Jones and Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, who has led the charge to bring webcasting to the Legislature through procedural channels, for their efforts. Keep up the fight.

Here’s to hoping House leaders don’t try to stop Arnold-Jones from webcasting from her committee meetings. It would be a travesty if they halted her efforts to bring the Legislature to her constituents and other New Mexicans who are unable to drive to Santa Fe and attend legislative proceedings in person.

Join the fight

Perhaps there are some other lawmakers in Santa Fe who are willing to stand up to their leadership as Arnold-Jones is doing. If so, I’d encourage you to talk with her. The cost of what she’s doing is minimal -- a few hundred dollars for the purchase of equipment and the use of server space throughout the duration of the session, she told me.

The new chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, Harvey E. Yates Jr., put out a statement today calling webcasting of state legislative proceedings critical to ensuring public trust and confidence. He pointed out that New Mexico is one of only three states that doesn’t provide at least live audio of its legislative proceedings. Several news outlets have reported that more than 40 state legislatures webcast audio and video.

“It is a travesty in this technological age to require our people to drive an hour, or five hours, to take part in the lawmaking process,” Yates said. “Most of us have to work and take care of our families. The Legislature should make it easier for people who are busy to get involved.”

Republican lawmakers: I bet if you ask, your state party might foot the bill for you to join Arnold-Jones’ rebellion.

As for Democrats, I doubt you’ll get such a warm reception from your state party or your colleagues if you do this, but it’s still the right thing to do. Show some chutzpa. Perhaps a handful of you standing up to your leaders would be enough to help them realize the error of their ways and the reality that, like it or not, technology has advanced to the point that they can’t operate in the dark any more. They should embrace the light, if for no other reason than because the light is going to find them anyway.

Welcome to the 21st Century, New Mexico Legislature. Thanks to Arnold-Jones for bringing you here.

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At 3:07 PM, January 22, 2009, Blogger SteveR said...

Change, we could see.

At 4:33 PM, January 22, 2009, Blogger Joseph Cummins said...

What legislator wants taxpayers or their constituencies to see them vote on unread bills?

If I took out a loan w/o reading the print then I can only blame my our own foolishness; but when a rule-maker signs onto an unread document who is at fault?

Spend some time in the Roundhouse and witness the carange to freedoms.

At 4:43 PM, January 22, 2009, Blogger Hemingway said...

Congratulations to State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones for her initiative!

At 6:29 PM, January 22, 2009, Blogger Alysha Smith said...

Kudos to Rep. Arnold-Jones, that is leadership in action!!

At 10:31 PM, January 22, 2009, Blogger wedum59 said...

What the legislative leadership does not want us to see is, for example, the mumbling and confusion that went on in the joint House and Senate Finance committee meeting Thursday afternoon. Many of the legislators and staff have no clue about using a microphone.

Plus, in this case, the staff didn't have the budget analyses ready, and they apparently have no input from Richardson's staff.

Senator Smith kept saying things like, we need to get moving, this is urgent (maybe I remember his comments because he was one of the few who articulated clearly).

The combination of the mumbling and the heat in the crowded room (the temperature control system in the committee rooms is pathetic) almost put me to sleep.

At 7:15 AM, January 23, 2009, Blogger ched macquigg said...

If this doesn't happen, and we sit by and do nothing, shame on us.

I mean really, shame on us.

Drop Janice Arnold a line. Thank her for her initiative and her courage.

At 9:12 AM, January 23, 2009, Blogger Hemingway said...

Forty-five states already webcast their legislative proceedings. However, New Mexico does not webcast because the politicians want to hide their underhanded dealings with lobbyists in the Roundhouse from the public! As citizens we should demand access! Senate Majority Leader Mike Sanchez is dead wrong about not supporting webcasting.


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