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Live TV of Utah Legislature?

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"Live from Salt Lake, it's the Utah Legislature!"

OK, it may not have that snazzy intro, or even become reality, but broadcasting legislative sessions and committee meetings was one idea kicked around Wednesday by the state's Information Technology Commission.

The concept of a Utah version of C-SPAN was among several possibilities the group discussed to try to make legislative activities more accessible to the public and to ease the flow of information among legislators, their staff members and their constituents.

But some commissioners were hesitant to turn lawmakers into the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, fearing showboating.

"I'd hate it if people played to the camera rather than have a real policy debate," Jerry Oldroyd said.

The commission took no action on the matter Wednesday but will discuss ideas again next month. Sen. David Steele, R-West Point, a co-chairman, said the upcoming remodeling of the Capitol would be a good time to institute any technology changes.

Other ideas discussed by the commission were using wireless technologies to allow people anywhere in the building to use laptops to access information, using "streaming" to provide audio and/or video of legislative gatherings on the Internet and using audio/visual devices to help people attending the meetings.

The use of new technologies, Steele said, would provide a worldwide audience, an increased use of electronic presentations and reports and easier methods for storing, retrieving and searching data.

The state apparently has a long way to go. Commissioner Leon Miller said "smart" rooms would be a good step. "This isn't a smart room, by any stretch," he said of Room 129, the Capitol's most recently refurbished area.

Oldroyd said real-time access to meeting transcripts would be helpful.

Issues confronting the commission and ultimately lawmakers include costs and the decision on who will manage the process of obtaining and implementing new technologies.

Garth Howard urged the commission to not get hung up on the cost, saying new technologies can lead to efficiencies and other increased values. Wireless technology, for example, can more easily be updated and provides for more flexibility and better overall communication than wired technology, he said.

Other commissioners, however, saw the crux of the matter as not what technology has to offer but rather what the lawmakers actually want or need.

"Do you want a C-SPAN? Is that what we're talking about?" Robert Hood asked.

"Who is going to use the information? That is the fundamental question," co-chairman Rep. Richard Siddoway, R-Bountiful, said.

Siddoway noted that the Davis County School Board experimented with taping meetings for broadcast but stopped in its tracks after watching the tape of the first meeting before it aired.

Members, he said, were worried about context of comments. "They said, 'If people had tuned in and heard me say that one remark, I'd be dead,' " Siddoway said.

"I think people will think more before they speak," Ronald Fox said. "To open doors and show the light is a good thing, at least for good government."

Howard said more-accessible meetings would alleviate the public's lack of knowledge of issues and resulting apathy.

"If we can engage 10 percent more of our citizens in doing this, that would be a wonderful goal," he said.

But David Packer disagreed, saying public participation probably wouldn't be affected by better access. He said existing technologies could meet many goals if the Legislature truly wanted better accessibility without huge expense.

"Technology is not the issue," he said. "It's a matter of policy, intent and desire."

Hood emphasized that whatever goals are established — whether boosting public access or having more-efficient lawmakers — Utahns should be the prime beneficiaries.

"Everything," he said, "needs to come back to whatever benefits it provides to the people."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com