By Len Lazarick
The conservative Republican and liberal Democrat pushing together for video streaming of General Assembly floor sessions also agree that the estimated costs are far too high.
In the fiscal note to House Bill 316, legislative staff estimates it would cost $1.2 million to install and operate next year, and then over $400,000 per year to staff and maintain the system.
“With modern technology you can do it for much, much less,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga told the House Rules Committee Friday. She believes the Senate chamber is already wired for video.
Del. David Moon, a Montgomery County Democrat co-sponsoring the bill, said, “I think the fiscal note is assuming a Cadillac-style implementation of how to do this to make it look like C-Span.”
The fiscal note doesn’t say what sort of equipment would be bought for $917,000. But it does estimate that the legislature would need to add four full-time positions with an average salary and benefits of $69,000 each — despite the fact that the Maryland General Assembly meets for only 90 days. For the first 30 days, floor sessions seldom last more than a hour, and they take only a few hours a day for much of the rest of the session.
Most states now have video
“I think we are in the far minority of states that don’t have video feeds of even the floor proceedings,” said Moon. “Yet we’re trying to brand ourselves as a forward looking state.”
Maryland has had live audio of floor sessions for more than a decade, but debates are difficult to follow since rules in both chambers forbid the use of proper names during debate.
“Constituents do find the floor proceedings difficult to follow,” Moon said.
Damon Effingham of Common Cause testified in support of the bill, and said, “The fiscal note seems wildly overinflated.”
Moon also offered an amendment to the bill taking out the requirement that committee voting sessions be videoed. All committee hearings in both houses including subcommittees are now video streamed and archived, as was the hearing on HB316.
Unusual alliance of right and left
There was considerable joking in the Rules Committee about the unusual alliance between Szeliga and Moon on the bill.
“I won’t tell anybody in the district,” joked Del. Sheila Hixson, the House Ways & Means chair who represents District 20, the same liberal Takoma Park-Silver Spring area as Moon. “Our district has a reputation.”
Del. Frank Turner, D-Howard, vice chair of Ways & Means, raised the problem of delegates playing to the cameras, apparently referring to times when TV news cameras are in the hearing rooms.
“I think our speaker, our fearless leader, Michael Busch, would handle that,” Moon said.
“I think people you’ve never seen get up before will be getting up to get their 15 minutes of fame,” Turner said.
Del. Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, the former House minority leader, commented, “I’m glad this is being recorded and broadcast so the citizens of Maryland can see what I’ve put up with for 22 years.”
Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, has introduced a similar version of the video bill, SB467, as have Dels. Robin Grammer and Ric Metzgar, both Dundalk Republicans, HB308.