Senate webcasting opens to bad reviews

johnsapienI generally don’t encounter much free-flowing consensus when I’m wandering around the Roundhouse. But as I haunted the curving halls of the Capitol yesterday, I found one thing on which everyone agrees:

The new Senate webcasting sucks.

It seems no one – legislators, constituents, journalists – is happy with the single, fixed camera positioned in the back of the chamber that provides a stultifying view of the back of everyone’s heads.

The webcasting began Monday after a protracted battle in the Senate, waged mostly by legislators who apparently did not relish the thought of cameras recording them for posterity if they said something silly.

But proponents of webcasting, including an overwhelming section of the public, pushed for an officially-sanctioned, ever-present light on the sometimes impenetrable process of lawmaking.

In the end, webcasting friends (mostly rank and file Senators) and foes (mostly Senate leaders) compromised on a plan to install one stationary camera in the back of the Senate chamber. As one legislator reasoned, it was exactly the view anyone would get if he or she drove to Santa Fe and sat in the gallery – no more, no less.

It’s gone over like a lead balloon.

The New Mexico Independent’s Gwyneth Doland – who, in the absence of webcasting, has performed a public service by logging hours and hours of legislative webcasting and liveblogs for her site — posted this on Wednesday to register her continuing displeasure with the limited camera scope.

Let’s be clear – the frustrating footage is not the fault of the Legislative Council Services staff, who are working hard to improve the performance of the single camera it’s been tasked with operating.

No, the people I talked to place the blame squarely on the man who spearheaded the much-maligned compromise plan – Sen. John Sapien (D-Corrales).

Let’s recap.

Continue reading

Ethics: The Myth of New Mexico’s Exceptionalism

lemmings2On Saturday, the NM State Senate delivered yet another blow to the cause of ethics reform.  SB163, a bill to impose a one-year cooling off period before ex-legislators can work as lobbyists, went down by a vote of 14-22.

One of the major purposes of the cooling-off period is to remove the temptation for lawmakers to push legislation made to order for future lobbying clients — in return for lucrative lobbying gigs immediately after they retire. Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin was an particularly egregious example of this at the federal level.  Note that under state law (the Governmental Conduct Act)  such a cooling-off period is applied to members of New Mexico’s executive branch – but the legislature thus far has exempted itself from this provision. SB163 would correct this omission.

The key moment of the lengthy debate over SB163 was a highly emotional speech against the bill by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Over the years, the Leader has honed many political skills.  And one that he has perfected to a high art – the taking of umbrage — was unleashed to full effect when he brandished the microphone for his assault on SB163.

Continue reading

Webcast the legislature, New Mexico

An important package of ethics bills in New Mexico’s history will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Rules Committee.

Lobbyists, advocates and the members of the media are expected to cram the meeting room to hear lawmakers discuss matters of huge importance to us all.

Shockingly, neither the Senate nor the House have decided yet whether that hearing – or any legislative hearing – is fit to broadcast live to the public.

Thank goodness for the New Mexico Independent, which has pledged to liveblog and webcast the meeting as it happens.

Judging from the overwhelming public support of the actions of “rogue” legislator Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who has dared to webcast committee meetings on which she sits, New Mexico is clearly clamoring for more transparency in government.

And in the Senate, a small number of technology deniers are holding up what the majority of the members of that chamber want. Continue reading

Transparency Watch: N.M. State Senate proves irony is not dead

By Eli Il Yong Lee – Feb 1st, 2009 at 11:35 am MST
Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. The New Mexico State Senate is NOT currently webcasting its floor sessions because the Senate leadership overruled a vote of the full membership authorizing that this be done.

Say again?

That’s right. Last year (Feb. 12, 2008), by a sizable bipartisan majority (27 For and only 13 Against), the Senate passed the webcast authorization along with a $75,000 appropriation. That was Senate Memorial 45 sponsored by Senator Mark Boitano (R-Albuquerque).

By December 2008, after an expenditure of just $30,000, everything was in place and ready to go for the 2009 session. But then something totally unexpected happened. Continue reading

The Case of Janice Arnold-Jones: Let the Sun Shine In

Sometimes right is just right – it doesn’t matter which side of the political aisle you’re sitting on.

I was struck by that old adage last week when I talked to Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican who has stirred up the New Mexico Legislature this year with her dogged efforts to broadcast legislative committee meetings live on the web.

Maybe in a year we’ll all be chuckling about it how silly it seems, but right now, Arnold Jones is taking serious heat from some fellow legislators for her desire to drag New Mexico into the digital age. New Mexico is one of just a handful of states that doesn’t already broadcast legislative proceedings live.

When I interviewed Arnold-Jones, I was inspired by her willingness to push the rules of the chamber and make her colleagues mad – really mad – in her quest to do the right thing. Continue reading

Lights, camera…NOT!

The blogosphere and news media have really latched on to this one – for good reason.

Yup. There won’t be any live webcasting of the legislative session. Read all about it in the NM Independent:

Roundhouse resists entering 21st century