Senate to switch on Web camera

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

After being taken down before the start of this session, a camera that will broadcast proceedings of the Senate floor over the Internet will return.

The Senate voted 37-0 Friday to allow a camera to be installed in the back of the Senate and stream video to the Legislature’s Web site. It also created a webcast oversight committee.

Earlier this year, a key Senate committee cited financial concerns about webcasting and three cameras that had been installed but never used were removed.

“Citizens want more access to government. They will have it,” Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, said in his closing remarks after a short debate on the measure (SR4).

“This openness and transparency that we are creating here will enable us to engage with more citizens and their voices will be stronger and stronger,” said Boitano, the bill’s sponsor.

The move comes after webcasting became a surprise issue this session. Members of the House grappled with the topic after Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, started webcasting from a committee, kicking off a revolution of webcasters. Two other Republicans, a public radio station, an online news publication, a private company and the state all since have started free webcasts with either audio or video or both. The House earlier this session decided it will work toward video webcasting of its floor meetings.

The Senate webcasts could begin as soon as Sunday. The camera will show the same overall view of the chamber that someone would have if they were sitting in the public gallery of the Senate.

That camera angle caused some lawmakers to jest about what the watching public at home will see.

“I’m a little worried about the rear camera bouncing off my ever-growing bald spot, but I guess I’ll have to live with that,” joked Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said she hopes the webcasts can help people who are not familiar with the political process follow the debate by having text with information about the bill and who is speaking.

“If you just have a camera back there filming, and nobody explaining what’s going on, that’s even more of a disservice to the public,” she said.

That information is expected to be a part of the webcasts after initial testing of the system.

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.

Boitano’s measure also creates the Senate Streaming Oversight Committee, which would have equal representation from both parties.

The panel’s purpose is to ensure the webcasts are operated in “an apolitical manner befitting the Senate.” Critics of the plan in the House and Senate have fretted that the webcasts could be used for political purposes. Under the measure approved by the Senate, the webcasts wouldn’t be archived, and would carry a notice that political use of the video is prohibited.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, said senators might look back on this debate and wonder what the hoopla was about.

“We’ll be so used to it, we’ll have totally forgotten what it was,” she said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of and people need to see how we conduct ourselves here in the Senate.”

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