Webcast issue under discussion

By Kate Nash

House Speaker Ben Lujan will appoint a subcommittee to look into what’s become a hot-button issue this session: webcasting.

Lujan, D-Nambe, will appoint a panel to look into what the rules should be for webcasts from the Roundhouse after Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, for the first time on Monday broadcast on the Internet a meeting of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

The new subcommittee resulted from a discussion by the House Rules and Order of Business Committee, which met for about an hour on the issue Tuesday morning but took no action apart from deciding a panel should look into the matter.

Those against webcasting said it could be used unfairly for political purposes, for example, by showing legislators sleeping after working for days on end in Santa Fe.

Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, was among those who expressed such concerns. “They could use it if I’m sleeping, and I’m being recorded,” he said. “It could be used as a political gain (by) my opponent.”

He also talked about cameras used by the Albuquerque City Council.

“The cameras, sometimes they do a decent job, sometimes they don’t,” he said. “They catch people almost slurping their coffee or whatever.”
Those favoring approval of webcasting said it’s about time Santa Fe caught up with the rest of the country in opening up its government to people who can’t always be in the state Capitol.

Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, said he favors webcasting, including from the House floors and not just committee sessions.

“I think this idea that the public does not need to know or doesn’t deserve to know is absolutely wrong,” he said. “I think the public needs to know anything and everything that we’re doing that is in the public arena, and I think they deserve to know.”

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, co-sponsored a measure (House Resolution 2) that would leave it up to each committee chairman to decide whether they will allow a hearing to be broadcast on the Web.
“I don’t think the issue here is transparency,” he said, “because these are open meetings and … obviously everything that’s being done in the committee process is completely transparent because it’s an open, public meeting.”
Many of the meetings come about without much notice, making it tough for some lawmakers’ constituents to get to Santa Fe in time.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said many constituents in her area don’t have access to news from Albuquerque, either by television or newspaper.
“That (webcasting) is a convenience that my constituents will be able to enjoy if in fact this does pass or come to fruition,” she said.

Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest, said a lack of webcasting creates the wrong impression.

“For us not to do it, it really gives the perception that we are trying to hide something, and in this climate I think this is the worst possible thing we can do right now,” she said. “To me, we should have cameras in every committee room, on the floor, and people should have full access to it.”

New Mexico is one of just a few of states without webcasting of legislative proceedings.

Arnold-Jones on Monday created a stir with her webcast, for which she did not seek permission from House leaders. She said she spent $800 of her own money because there is no webcast from the Roundhouse for those who are unable to make it to hearings. Tax committee chairman Rep. Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, twice asked her not to do the webcast.

The state Senate paid $30,000 for Web cameras for its chamber, but late last month the Committees Committee voted against webcasting and the cameras were taken down about two weeks before the session started on Jan. 20.

Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, has estimated it would cost $7,000 a session to webcast from the Senate, although other estimates have run as high as $100,000.
Lujan said he’s not against webcasting as long as its done in a way that’s not embarrassing to House members or used for political purposes.

He on didn’t have an exact timeline Tuesday for appointing the subcommittee or when it would report back to the Rules Committee, but thought the work could be done in less than two weeks.

Arnold-Jones, meanwhile, chided the Rules Committee for not taking any action.

“I am extremely disappointed the Rules Committee failed to come to a conclusion about broadcasting legislative sessions,” she said. “A majority of my constituents are very interested in the action of the Legislature, and many of us represent areas of the state where it is unreasonable for our constituents to travel hours to attend public meetings on extremely short notice.”

Arnold-Jones posted her webcast on a friend’s Web site, something that irked some Democrats.

Martinez, who said he supports webcasting, said that if the Legislature is going to do it, it should be up to an independent group to host the webcasts.

“It should be handled by an independent third party or agency,” he said. “If a government agency does it, I think that’s the best because it’s the most trustworthy.”

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com. Read her blog at www.greenchilechatter.com.