Proposal to stream state agency meetings on Internet hampered by high cost

By Deborah Fisher, Executive Director, TCOG

A bill that would require state agency meetings to be streamed live over the Internet was approved unanimously by the Senate State and Local Government Committee yesterday and referred to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

SB1734 would create a new chapter in the law known as the “Tennessee Streaming Video Act” and would apply to “any department, commission, board, office or other agency of the executive branch of state government.”

The bill passed after state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, told the committee that he was working to amend it to bring the fiscal note down or remove it. The bill would apply to the public meetings held by about 270 boards, commissions and agencies.

The fiscal note estimates a cost of $3 million the first year, $4 million the second and $3 million in the third year for new equipment and software. Then it estimates $1 million in costs for subsequent years.

Bell said some groups already stream video from their public meetings, then post the archival video on their web site. But most do not. The bill allows the agencies to use the public hearing rooms in Legislative Plaza, which already have the equipment to live-stream meetings.

He emphasized that many of the boards and commission have rule-making authority. Their decisions can have the force of law and affect citizens throughout the state.

Committee members began asking who the bill would apply to — would it apply to the Tennessee Board of Regents, for example, or the Tennessee State Board of Education? Bell said it would. He also clarified that the bill only applied to public meetings, not closed sessions allowed by law.

The bill gives state agencies a deadline of July 1, 2017, to stream meetings. It also allows state agencies to petition the Office of Open Records Counsel for an exemption of one year based on financial hardship, and to reapply when the exemption expires.

In addition to streaming the public meetings live over the Internet, the proposed law would require the archived video to be maintained on the agency’s website.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, noted that some citizens in rural areas don’t have Internet access to live-streaming video and said it would be “incumbent upon us” to address that issue.

Bell said he wants to work on an amendment for the finance committee and is still talking with the administration.

The proposed legislation is being carried in the House by state Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, where it has not yet been scheduled.

 

What do you think?