This weekend, longtime statehouse reporter Phill Brooks penned a commentary for the Columbia Tribune examining the history of broadcasting the proceedings of the Missouri Legislature. I commend to you the whole piece, but I think Brooks intends to leave us with a warning that we should not take the unintended consequences of recording legislative proceedings for granted — not only the potential of legislators hamming it up for the camera, but also the concerns about the potential for lobbyist pressure if every official move of our representatives is documented. I appreciate those concerns; after all, we want our legislators focused on their job of legislating well, not putting on a performance.
However, I think one section of Brooks’ piece deserves to be highlighted for why erring on the side of recording should be preferred to erring on the side of what are really the political concerns of our legislators.
It is difficult to realize how different the Senate was some four decades ago.
The chamber even banned taking notes in the visitors’ gallery overlooking the chamber. A couple of senators said they didn’t want lobbyists using their quotes against them. The note-taking ban was dropped when it was exposed by a newspaper story that made the chamber look silly.
The “note-taking ban” was news to me, and it’s appalling that the Senate chamber at some point in its history felt that such a rule was appropriate. Thankfully, both the House and the Senate now livecast their floor debates online. As someone who is rarely in Jefferson City, that service is invaluable not only to my work but also to all Missourians. If legislators are concerned that constituents might hear what they said at a public hearing . . . well, they better get used to that idea, because that’s the whole point of a public hearing.
Likewise, requiring that House and Senate committee hearings to be broadcast in the same way as when the full House and Senate are in session — or, alternatively, recorded and made available online afterward — should be a no-brainer when it comes to promoting transparency in government. It’s why I think the audio recording of the legislature’s public hearings should be on this year’s reform agenda. Missourians with full-time jobs across the state deserve to be able to hear the committee debates that, these days, are only accessible to “note-taking” Jefferson City lobbyists.
Let the sunshine in.