The live video streaming of Kansas Supreme Court oral arguments that began this week has opened a welcome window onto the high court that should help Kansans better scrutinize, understand and trust their justice system. The Legislature needs to be next to get the cameras rolling.
The court has offered streaming audio since 2004. But as of Monday, the oral arguments heard by the court at regular intervals throughout the year can be seen as well as heard online, either live or later at www.kscourts. org. Twenty-two other states’ appellate courts offer such video, but only a dozen others do so live.
It expands the experience to see the attorneys argue their cases and handle justices’ questions. The streaming video surely will become a valued educational tool at the state’s two law schools and for other educational viewing. The system, which cost $13,000, also will spare some of the parties involved in these cases a long trip to Topeka, and already has been used for court training sessions.
And the new cameras arrived just in time to serve the keen public interest in the legal fight over a proposed 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant near Holcomb. Environmental groups sued to challenge the state permits allowing construction. Oral arguments in the case will be heard by the justices, and viewable online, beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.
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The ability to watch one of the state’s appellate courts do its work live online will help inform further legislative debates over Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to give him more say in who sits on those courts.
Meanwhile, Brownback and other state leaders need to make it a priority to bring Kansas up to date on offering video of the Legislature. Most states, including neighbors Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado, have some kind of C-SPAN-like video feed of legislative action. Kansans can find the governor’s State of the State addresses on TV and online, and House action can be seen on monitors within the Capitol. But Kansas is among nine states that offer only streaming audio of their legislatures day to day. And Kansas only does so live from the two chambers, with no way to catch up on important debates later.
Some of the $332 million spent on the Capitol renovation went toward updated infrastructure that would allow more cameras, monitors and the rest. Let’s see that capability put to use soon, not just on the House and Senate floors but during key committee hearings.
In many states, video of legislative proceedings is handled in a partnership with public broadcasting. That would be awkward (at best) in Kansas, where Brownback has been trying to defund public radio and TV. And anything that increases the cost of state government will invite resistance at a time when Brownback has state agencies looking at how to cut 10 percent from their budgets.
But the state Supreme Court’s new online visibility should hasten the Legislature’s own dive into streaming video. It’s no longer acceptable, nor technologically necessary, to make Kansans go to Topeka to see their government work.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman