Rep. Russell Aims to Shed Sunlight on Legislative Process With House Bill 341

Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 10:22 am

This week Rep. Ray Russell (D-Watauga) filed a bill along with three colleagues that would require using modern technology to shed light on the legislative process to make it more accessible for every day residents.

“We live in the 21st century when 300 hours of live video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day,” Rep. Russell said. “However, the legislature’s public presence, with the exception of its web page, is still living in the 1930s and 40s. It’s past time we make the public’s business available to the public using current technology.

“The idea is simple: We propose to live stream sessions and committee meetings via the internet followed by archiving and making the audio/video of these sessions and meetings searchable,” he said.

House Bill 341 (North Carolina Sunshine Act) also calls for the creation of a channel guide so the public will know what and when to watch and requires that the Legislature conduct the people’s business when constituents aren’t asleep.

This bill has 5 provisions:

  • Live streaming and searchable archives of the sessions and committee meetings
  • Agendas for sessions and meeting made public 24 hours ahead of time.
  • Conduct official business between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm.
  • End the practice of “gut and replace bills” with changes that are not germane to the bill’s original author’s intent.
  • Require that budget provisions carry the name of the legislator who requested the provision.

“I have been ‘Forecasting a Bright Future for North Carolina’ for the past two years,” Rep. Russell said. “Part of a brighter future is for the legislature to shine light into shady places and make the workings of this body more accessible and transparent to North Carolinians. That’s why we introduced the North Carolina Sunshine Act.”

Rep. Russell noted that earlier this month House Bill 218, aka “Broadcast NC House of Representatives Sessions,” passed the house on a 115-1 vote.  The bill would provide internet and television broadcasting of North Carolina House daily sessions.  This bill would also commission a study to investigate creating a new television channel devoted to broadcasting all NC House committee meetings.

“I voted for that bill,” he said; “however, it’s a 1990s bill using 1990s technology. It does NOT 1) recognize the internet as the communication medium of today and the future, and 2) provide the channel guide so that citizens can know what and when the events occur.”

The Legislative Building at 16 West Jones Street is four hours from the NW corner of the state, six hours from the SW corner, three hours from the SE corner, and three hours from the NE corner.

“But each corner is only milliseconds from 16 West Jones Street via the internet,” Russell pointed out.

Rep. Russell said he discovered a benefit of the bill that he did not understand initially. Town council members, county commissioners, and their employees, as well as state agency employees want to watch committee meetings and sessions when agenda items involving their work are being discussed.

As he sought sponsors for this bill, he said that so often the discussion focused on how it might shine a light on negative things that happen at the Legislature. “However, I believe that an equally important outcome would be an increased appreciation about how hard staff and members in the General Assembly work on behalf of the people of North Carolina,” Rep. Russell said.

He added, “So from the perspective of my district: I want the teacher from Mabel School to hear what’s said about teacher pay and student assessments; I want the deputy sheriff from Meat Camp to see us debate criminal justice legislation; I want the farmer from Pond Mountain to see the Agriculture Committee discussing nuisance laws; I want the single mom in Grassy Creek to know firsthand what we are doing about high quality childcare; I want the uninsured, self-employed dad in Deep Gap to see what we are doing about Medicaid Expansion.

“This story can be translated across the state into millions of constituents’ lives on thousands of topics,” he said.

 

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