For Glynn County residents concerned about a bill in a state Senate committee, it is roughly four and a half hours, by car, from the Brunswick City Hall to the state Capitol — and by Georgians’ knowledge of Atlanta traffic, it is likely to take longer than that.
Or, it used to be.
Beginning in January, many — if not most — full state Senate committee meetings will be broadcast live over the internet and afterward held in an archive on the General Assembly website. The effort matches ongoing standard operating procedure in the state House of Representatives, which has livestreamed its committee meetings for the past several years.
“Right now, what we’re doing is starting with the full standing committees that meet in those five rooms,” said Ines Owens, Senate Press Office director.
Those five rooms are Capitol rooms 125, 450 and Mezzanine 1, and Coverdell Legislative Office Building rooms 307 and 310. That constitutes half of the 10 rooms allotted to Senate committees, according to the General Assembly website.
“So, let’s say (the Senate) Judiciary (Committee) meets in CLOB 307 — we would be streaming that meeting,” Owens said. “But if it were to be moved to a random room that we’re not streaming quite yet, then we wouldn’t be able to stream it.”
Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, said in February he would back livestreaming of the committee meetings, but up to that point the General Assembly put no money toward the project. That changed with the passage of the fiscal year 2018 budget, which contained $485,000 to wire up the rooms.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Ligon said. “Our committee meetings have always been open to the public, and if you go to a meeting … the only problem was in order to view what was going on, you had to go to the Capitol. And so now that we have invested in this technology, those who have a interest in a bill that’s moving through a particular committee will have the opportunity to log on and watch the proceedings in that committee meeting.”
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, tried to broadcast his committee meetings during the 2017 session via the Periscope cellphone app, as did some others who attended various Senate committee meetings through the year. The Senate Rules Committee pushed back a little in stating that recording could only happen in a location approved by the committee chairman, but that was changed to requesting people record from the back of the room.
That had its own issue, as some people’s phones or other recording equipment did not have the microphone strength to pick up everything said by committee members. Those sort of technological issues should be things of the past with the new setup.
“It’s going really well — it entails a lot more than I think people were thinking originally,” Owens said. “But, we’re in the process of cabling the rooms right now and getting the control room set up. So, we know we will be done in time for January, for the meetings to be up and running during session. We might have some meetings that are streamed before then — you know, as a practice — but we quite aren’t sure, because we’re still waiting on some parts to come in. But, the project’s well underway.”
Ligon said he does not foresee senators acting any differently in committee than they did before.
“I don’t think you’ll see any changes, because again, the meetings have always been open to the public, and depending on the subject matter, sometimes a committee meeting will have standing-room only,” Ligon said. “You’re just increasing the size of the audience, and now anyone in the state — or anyone anywhere who wants to log on and view a meeting — should be able to do so.”