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From Home, Virginians Can Keep an Eye on Legislators

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By Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – It may not offer the drama of “House of Cards,” but an initiative at the Virginia Capitol is lifting the curtain on the workings of the General Assembly.

In January, the House and Senate started live-streaming and archiving videos of committee hearings. On a computer or cellphone, Virginians can now watch – from the comfort of their homes or offices – what used to require a trip to the Capitol.

“We’re already hearing about a lot of people watching at home and following these debates you could only follow in Richmond in the past,” said Meghan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

The General Assembly was prodded into offering videos of its committee meetings by the liberal advocacy group Progress Virginia.

During the 2017 legislative session, the organization streamed committee and subcommittee hearings using iPads and college interns. The project, called Eyes on Richmond, was part of an effort to hold Virginia’s legislature – notorious for a lack of transparency – to account, said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

The videos from Eyes on Richmond weren’t Emmy quality, and the audio sometimes was hard to understand. But the project received an award from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government in November.

The General Assembly followed suit and began providing live streams and video recordings – at the committee level only – when the 2018 legislative session opened.

The streams and archives are accessible from each committee’s webpage. Those webpages can be found on the General Assembly’s website.

Eyes on Richmond still webcasts and archives many subcommittee meetings. Scholl said the group will continue to do so until the state provides that service.

That likely will happen when the state opens a replacement for the General Assembly Building in 2021. A spokesperson for House Speaker Kirk Cox said Monday that the commonwealth will provide video of subcommittee meetings in the new facility.

The state has been broadcasting House and Senate floor sessions since the 1970s and putting them online for a decade. But Scholl said the most substantive debate, as well as testimony from citizens, happens at the committee and subcommittee levels in the General Assembly.

“We believe very strongly that transparency is necessary in lawmaking,” Scholl said. “Constituents should have access to the actions that are being taken on their behalf.”

State officials said it cost more than $500,000 to set up video streaming of committees in the House and about half that amount in the Senate.

How to watch

For links to videos of floor sessions and committee meetings, go to the General Assembly’s website – http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/ – and click on “Members and session.”

To watch a committee meeting, drill down to the committee’s webpage and then to the agenda for a specific meeting. There, you will find a video link.

For videos of subcommittee meetings, go to EyesOnRichmond.org, a project of the group Progress Virginia.

Eyes on Richmond has four “channels” – websites featuring a different video stream. The project’s home page includes a calendar listing which subcommittee meetings are being webcast on each channel.

Each channel’s home page also has a link to videos of previously recorded subcommittee meetings.

 

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