Audio webcasts popular among lawmakers in poll

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

Audio webcasts from the House floor could begin as soon as today, a move that appears popular with lawmakers who responded to an informal survey by The New Mexican.

Twenty of the 21 legislators who took part in the poll said they support webcasting from the floor and committee hearings. One said she didn’t care one way or the other.

The question was sent to all 112 lawmakers, either as a paper questionnaire delivered to their Capitol office or a message sent to the e-mail address listed on the Legislature’s Web page.

Support seems to be growing as the session continues. Initial comments against webcasting included a worry by Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, that the cameras might catch him sleeping.

He later that same week said he supports webcasting.

Others have supported it all along, and the main opposition seems to be coming from members of the Committees’ Committee — filled with Senate leaders — which in December voted against webcasts this session.

“As for webcasting, yes, both committee and floor sessions should be shown to the world,” Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, wrote in response to the poll. “Let the citizens see what goes on here and maybe we will stop passing stupid stuff.”

“I strongly support cameras in both committee rooms and on the House and Senate floors,” wrote Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest. “We are continually referred to as a ‘citizen’ legislature. That being the case, it’s time that citizens actually have access to the process in Santa Fe.”

After Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, created some controversy early this session by webcasting from a House committee without permission, the House decided this week to allow live streaming audio of its meetings and to start a pilot project for audio from some committee hearings.

A measure is pending in the Senate, meanwhile, that would appropriate $7,000 for audio and video webcasting from that chamber.

Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill (SB 401).

The Senate had purchased and installed cameras, but after the Committees’ Committee vote to not webcast, the cameras were taken down shortly before the session started.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said in his response to the poll that the state clearly has the money, and webcasting should start as soon as possible.

“I support webcasting of Senate floor sessions and believe we have ample money in the feed bill to do exactly this, so we can’t with a straight face use the excuse of ‘too expensive’ to avoid taking this step, which the Senate has now two times said it should do,” he wrote.

The Legislature in 2006 appropriated $75,000 in capital outlay for webcasting. About $22,000 of that is left after more than $36,000 was spent on cameras. Another $17,000 was spent on related equipment.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com