"For those who are interested in government in general, or a specific bill, or a specific subject matter, listening live to a committee proceeding could be very enlightening."
The Kansas State Legislature is getting a little closer to home — or at least within hearing distance.
The legislature plans to start audio livestreams of committee hearings over the internet, thanks to a three-year $199,000 grant from the Information Network of Kansas. The three rooms that host the most high-profile committees are expected to start audio streaming this month, and the other 10 rooms are expected to have streaming in place before the 2017 legislative session ends.
"There is a bill pending this session that would make this a permanent and expanding program," said Les Mason, who represents much of McPherson County in the Kansas House of Representatives. "One goal that spans political philosophies is that of an open and transparent government. For those who are interested in government in general, or a specific bill, or a specific subject matter, listening live to a committee proceeding could be very enlightening."
The first three rooms to provide audio streams house a variety of committees, including the House Judiciary Committee; House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee; House Health and Human Services Committee; House Education Committee; Senate Transportation Committee; Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee; House Transportation Committee; and House Agriculture Committee.
Residents have been able to listen to Kansas Senate and House sessions in real time for several years, and expanding streaming to committee meetings adds another layer of transparency in the decision-making process.
"I expect very few people to follow the committees as the proceedings can be slow and somewhat boring much of the time," said Don Schroeder, who represents Moundridge and parts of Harvey and Marion Counties in the Kansas House of Representatives. "But it is a good thing from the transparency perspective as anyone can follow if they choose to do so."
Aside from the possibility that legislators will use the streaming service as an opportunity to grandstand, Mason and Schroeder said they see few, if any, drawbacks. In fact, Mason believes it will help listeners gain a better understanding of how people from diverse places in Kansas work together.
"It would also be enlightening as to how complex it is to blend the attitudes and life experiences of a group of people to form a single cohesive policy," he said.
Residents can listen to streaming services through the Kansas State Legislature website, http://www.kslegislature.org/, as they become available.