It's time to give N.C. citizens a clearer look at their legislature
RALEIGH - This is Sunshine Week across the country. No, that doesn't mean we're going to have sunny weather all week. Instead, it's a week designed to highlight open government initiatives and spur conversation about citizen access to our government.
Here in North Carolina, the N.C. Open Government Coalition is hosting a Sunshine Day event at Elon University to raise awareness of how we can better use technology to bring transparency to state and local governments. An open, transparent government benefits everyone by allowing citizens to better follow and connect with what happens in their government, leading to greater accountability at all levels.
One glaring gap in North Carolina state government's transparency efforts is the lack of video coverage of the General Assembly. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 30 states currently provide some manner of televised coverage of state legislative proceedings. North Carolina remains the largest state in the country to not do so.
North Carolina wouldn't have to provide televised coverage though to make strides in this area. With today's technology it would be an even easier solution to provide live and archived video of the General Assembly online. Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of only eight states to not provide any form of video coverage whatsoever.
While the state doesn't provide any video coverage of the legislature, it does provide audio of House and Senate floor sessions along with two committee meeting rooms. In addition, VoterRadio.com, a service of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, provides live streaming of committee meetings, floor sessions and other important events around the capital. To date, VoterRadio.com is also the only source of archived audio of both the House and Senate floor sessions and committee meetings.
Of course, audio coverage is better than nothing, but it's very difficult for your average listener to follow along and understand what legislator is speaking and what bill is being discussed. Not to mention that with only two committee rooms providing audio, dozens of important committees meet with no way for citizens to listen in at all, aside from physically being there in Raleigh.
Nobody is suggesting that if the General Assembly began providing video of its proceedings that it would rival the Super Bowl for ratings, but it would still provide an important service to the citizens of the state. Much like a library is a valuable resource that isn't used every day by everyone in the state, video coverage would be available when needed and serve as a way for citizens to connect with state government.
After all, it is the people's government and we elect those who serve in Raleigh, so we have a right to know what happens and how bills navigate through the process to become laws.
Providing video coverage of the General Assembly, whether online or televised, would pull the curtain back on state government and shine a light on the proceedings. An open and transparent government is vital to our democracy, and when citizens have the means to stay informed and engaged we all prosper.
(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)