A controversy arose at the capitol yesterday as several House committees organized to consider their rules and policy for operating business.
In the House State Agencies Committee, a decision was made by Chairman Rep. Clark Hall, D-Marvell, to not allow any use of cell phones for calls, texts, emails, and other purposes.
His committee and others also debated the use of live-streaming equipment to broadcast committee hearings from the capitol. Last year, the House of Representatives spent more than $300,000 to install camera equipment to allow for live-streaming of meetings.
In a letter delivered this morning to House Chief of Staff Bill Stovall, our media organizations asked for the policy review in order to take advantage of technology to make the House’s business more open to the public and more available to our readers.
The full letter we delivered follows:
January 13, 2011
The Honorable Robert Moore, Speaker
Arkansas House of Representatives
Little Rock, AR 72201
Dear Mr. Speaker:
It has come to our attention that during the organizational phases of the House committees that an inconsistent application of communications policy has been applied.
We reference State Agencies Committee Chairman Rep. Clark Hall’s decision to prohibit the use of emails, texting, and other deliveries and devices by members as well as others in attendance at his meetings.
We also note there was inconclusive discussion regarding the use of live-streaming equipment in committee meetings involving the House.
While we understand the traditions and rules that have long guided the House of Representatives in its functions, we respectfully request that you put forth a new policy that recognizes the evolving technology that allows our state government to be more open and accessible to citizens.
It is important to many of our professions to be able to witness proceedings of committee meetings or to garner explanations from those in attendance through emails, texts, etc. Beyond that, the House made a forward-thinking stand in the last two years by installing equipment to allow for live-streaming of its proceedings.
To ban, prohibit or not fully use these modern-day technological advancements hinders good government, makes waste of monies spent on said technologies, and undermines public confidence. It implies that only those who can sacrifice their time and travel to attend meetings will have full access to what is happening. It limits the ability for motivated citizens and professional journalists from reporting on the events transpiring at the capitol in a timely fashion. And, to stress the point, it curtails the efficient use of taxpayer dollars already spent to make House hearings available to the public.
We ask that you address this matter through your leadership and the appropriate channels of the House as soon as possible in order to keep faith with the public that the people’s business is in fact worthy of all forms of observation and communication.
If you would like to meet to discuss this matter further, we would welcome the opportunity.
Roby Brock Jason Tolbert Michael Tilley
Talk Business The Tolbert Report The City Wire
Cc: The Honorable Rep. Keith Ingram, Chair, House Rules Committee
We’ll keep you posted on our progress and we encourage others to join us in seeking this more open forum for public business. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts and we encourage you to talk to your local legislator on the subject if you’re so inclined.
UPDATE: Four House committees met for the first time this session this morning.
Rep. Linda Tyler, chair of the Public Health Committee, said she would be lax with the House policy prohibiting phones in committee. She said she would not ban texting or other forms of communication and she planned to allow a vote by committee members on live-streaming next week.
Rep. Darrin Williams, chair of Judiciary, and Rep. Davy Carter, chair of Revenue and Tax, mirrored Tyler’s interpretation of the rule. They also expected members to vote on live-streaming committee meetings next week.
Rep. Eddie Cheatham, chair of the Education Committee, said he was fine with audience members texting or emailing with their phones on silent. He also said that the live-streaming issue would be considered by members at a later date.
Cheatham also indicated that a House chairmen meeting was expected for Friday and he felt the controversies on the policies would be addressed in that session.