Traill County Tribune, June 23, 2011
By Harry Lipsea
A conversation with a fellow legislator during a car ride home from the capital proved to be vital for District 20 Senator Phil Murphy. While discussing public access of
legislative sessions with District 20 Rep. Lee Kaldor, the Portland man came up with an idea that ultimately became Senate Bill 2169.
“We were just talking about how people can keep track of the legislative sessions,” Murphy said. “And it just seemed to me that recordings of the floor sessions should be available.”
In the past, sessions have been recorded for one day and then discarded after the legislative journal is published. The journal usual only contains record of actions on the floor.
“As a legislator, if you want something to be recorded you have to note it,” Murphy said. “Right now, there’s a lot that goes on each day that the public doesn’t know about.”
That’s when the senator began to draft Senate Bill 2169 that called for the recording and archiving of floor sessions as an important historic record. Floor sessions will be placed online so people can watch and search for sessions at anytime. Cameras will also be placed in two committee rooms used by Senate and House Appropriations.
Initially, the bill was met with some opposition as some believed that the recordings could be used against legislators on the campaign trail. Murphy’s defense was that the public would now have the opportunity to see an entire comment and discussion rather than to hear one sound bite.
“Things can always be taken out of context,” he said. “But now, full video will be available so legislators can point to the entire session rather than just one comment.”
After the bill passed both the House and Senate, the Legislative Arrangements Committee voted unanimously to record and to archive both audio and video floor sessions with indexing to provide access to particular bill debates and discussion. In this day and age, it’s quite rare for anything to be voted through unanimously, so the project is considered a victory for Murphy.
“It’s very rare for so many people to agree on one issue in the Legislature,” Murphy said. “I was very pleased that so many legislators saw the benefit in the recording and archival of video on the floor. It was a great feeling when I heard back from the Legislative Arrangements Committee.”