Legislation Would Require Streaming/Archiving of all General Assembly Action for Online Public Access
State Reps. Bryan Shupe (R-Milford South) and Mike Smith (R-Pike Creek Valley) are introducing legislation today that calls for audio and video of all General Assembly proceedings – House and Senate floor action and committee meetings – to be streamed live, archived, and made available online.
The measure revisits a House Concurrent Resolution that was introduced last January but did not clear the legislature before the end of the 150th General Assembly.
At this time last year, only audio of the House and Senate floor deliberations were streamed, and no recordings were web-accessible. The overwhelming majority of committee meetings were not streamed or digitally recorded in any fashion.
Last spring, the COVID-19 threat required the General Assembly to adopt new protocols for meeting virtually, recording its proceedings, and making that content available to the public. “While that promise was technically kept, the lack of accessibility has proven that lawmakers must set clear expectations moving forward if true transparency for the public is to be achieved,” Rep. Shupe said. “Furthermore, our goal as lawmakers should not be to simply film the legislative process but to use technology to encourage active involvement from Delaware residents so their voices can be heard and considered when laws that affect their daily lives are being created and voted on.”
In a press release issued in mid-December, Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf seemed to share similar thoughts, saying: “Throughout the entire history of the Delaware General Assembly, if you wanted to deliver a public comment during a committee meeting, you had to be in that room in Legislative Hall. If you wanted to watch a roll-call vote, you had to be in the House or Senate chamber. But now, every committee meeting we hold, every floor debate we have, and every vote we take will be streamed live online.”
However, Rep. Smith said while progress has been made, there are still significant shortfalls and gaps. “Committee meetings are currently being streamed, but most are not recorded for public review,” he said. “Once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we need to take the next step and build on this experience. Speaker Schwartzkopf has already taken some action, directing the Division of Research to begin exploring the issue. This resolution would formalize the process, creating a clear framework, allowing for public observation and participation, and establishing a firm goal and timeline for making digital transparency a permanent feature of the Delaware General Assembly.”
House Concurrent Resolution 10 calls for three state agencies – the General Assembly’s Division of Research, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Technology and Information – to collaborate in creating a detailed plan to implement General Assembly streaming and archiving. The blueprint would include the recommended equipment, software, infrastructure, and training needed for the project and its estimated total cost.
The study would be due no later than January 2022 so the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee could include funding for it in the FY 2023 budget. The proposal would also include an interim protocol for streaming and recording all legislative proceedings until the permanent system was implemented.
“Access to our legislative process is vital to ensuring a free and open society,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), who is the prime Senate sponsor of the legislation. “If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that implementing livestream technology is possible and necessary to engage the public when they are not able to be present in person. Even after the doors to Legislative Hall open and we get back to normal, video and audio should always be made available for those who wish to stay informed.”
HCR 10 has drawn modest bipartisan support in both legislative chambers. It has been assigned to the House Administration Committee for consideration.