The 150th General Assembly will resume action next week, but the debates to come on the House and Senate floors won’t be seen by anyone who can’t get to Legislative Hall in person.
That could all change if State Representative Mike Smith has his way. The Pike Creek Republican is introducing legislation that requires both audio and video broadcast of all General Assembly proceedings, including floor action and committee hearings.
Smith wants the action in Dover to be available via an online internet stream. His proposal also calls for all visual and audio content to be archived and accessible online.
Currently, only audio of the House and Senate floor deliberations is streamed online, and none of the content is available on the internet. According to the House Republican Caucus, the “overwhelming majority of committee meetings are not streamed or digitally recorded in any fashion.”
Smith says the General Assembly conducts most of its business during Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, when most working Delawareans cannot easily travel to Legislative Hall or listen to the live streams.
“It’s astounding to me we haven’t done this already,” said Smith. “It’s something the people of Delaware want and it’s something that we, as legislators, should have given them a long time ago.”
Other states including Minnesota and Louisiana stream and archive their legislative proceedings. Smith believes joining their ranks will improve accountability and help build public trust in government.
His legislation directs the Division of Research, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Delaware Department of Technology & Information to cooperate in creating a detailed plan to implement General Assembly streaming and archiving.
The plan would include the required equipment, software, infrastructure, and training needed for the project, as well as its total cost. The study would be due no later than January 2021, so the budget-wiring Joint Finance Committee could include financing for the initiative in the FY 2022 budget.
Smith says he hopes it gains broad, bipartisan support for his effort. “This is a transparency and accountability issue, and that’s something that, regardless of what party you’re with, you should be able to get behind,” he said.
“The technology to do this is more affordable and accessible than it has ever been,” Smith says. “Most people are looking at content on their cell phones, their tablets, and their laptops. They expect their legislature to be easily accessible online, too.”