This will be a short article this week.
I read with genuine delight recently that the Allen County Commissioners are planning to televise their meetings. My hat goes off to Commissioners Marla Irving, Linda Bloom, and Ed Rousseau. The more access our government provides to our citizens, the more informed our citizenry becomes, and therefore, the better their government serves them.
Having been a City Councilman for eight years, I am totally familiar with having your meetings aired on TV. Two things invariably happen when these meetings are televised, both of them good: 1) the elected officials and government bureaucrats are generally more civil to one another, since no one wants to appear rude and boorish; and 2) everyone is generally either better prepared, or they know they are unprepared and therefore don't talk. Either way, the meeting runs better, and is more informative.
Many elected officials who have never experienced having their meetings televised are very apprehensive about the idea. Will it disrupt the process? Will the important debate of the issues be chilled because of the TV cameras? Will individuals pontificate to the detriment of the process because of the TV cameras? Etc. Etc.
I have complete confidence that there are no real negatives and a whole lot of positives in televising government meetings. Which is why, though it took longer than it should have, the decision to televise county government meetings is a positive development for Allen County's citizens.
This leaves the State Legislature as the sole remaining body that has, thus far, refused to televise its proceedings. I am dedicated to getting this changed. The more our citizens know about what is happening in Indianapolis, the better we all are for it. Fort Wayne's media cannot cover the Legislature completely. It is difficult to get anything on the local TV news unless the biggest or most controversial issues are being discussed. That's just the reality of logistics and the fact that we are two hours away from the capitol.
However, I have no doubt that we could create a cable network that would televise all regular sessions of the House and Senate, as well as key committee meetings, much like C-Span does now for the US Congress. By doing so, we will allow citizens in Fort Wayne and other regions of the State to see first hand what is happening in our State legislature. You could watch a key committee meeting and understand the pros and cons of the issue being discussed. So much of what we do as a Legislature is formed and crafted at the Committee level that not to see this process is to miss out on the most important details of a piece of legislation.
If a citizen wants to find out what is occurring on a key piece of legislation, they could watch the meeting either live or on tape and instantly contact their legislator via e-mail or phone about their thoughts on the issue. Seem far-fetched? Just consider the concept of serious budget cuts that our State Legislature will undoubtedly have to consider in the 2003 Session. Whether you are for or against them, those cuts will impact all of us in one way or another. If the key committee hearings and legislative Sessions were televised, you could watch and listen to them; form your own opinion, and let your legislator hear about it. Right now, the average citizen is stuck reading about it in the newspaper, but only if the paper chooses to cover the story.
I will be pressing our Senate leadership to create a Study Committee in 2003 for the purpose of televising all future legislative Sessions, beginning in the 2004 or 2005 Sessions. That would mean finding a funding source, but I have no doubt that state government can partner with the cable companies to find a workable solution that spares the taxpayers but makes the televised Sessions a reality. Wish me and others who share my viewpoint well on this matter. Here's hoping that we are able to bring the State Legislature to your home in the near future.