House gives bill to set up live streaming of legislative hearings initial OK

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A bill that will enable live streaming of legislative committee hearings gained initial passage in the Kansas House on Thursday.

HB 2573, which passed on an initial voice vote, would enable Kansans to listen to audio of committee hearings at the Capitol. Proponents say this will increase transparency and give citizens who live far from Topeka greater access to state government.

“It’s hard to vote ‘no’ for transparency,” said Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, noting its bipartisan support.

Whitmer joked that the bill will bring Kansas into the 1990s.

Similar bills, all of which have been titled the Transparency Act, have passed the Senate with unanimous support in recent years but have failed to advance to the House floor. The House speaker’s office cited cost as a reason the earlier bills did not pass. Whitmer also pointed to cost.

“As much as I support transparency, I would have voted ‘no’ on my own bill if I hadn’t found a way to pay for it,” Whitmer said.

His bill will rely on a grant from the Information Network of Kansas, a public-private partnership, to fund streaming in committee rooms next session. Whitmer said the grant could be up to $100,000, which would allow for streaming in multiple committee rooms.

He praised Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, and Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, for pushing the issue of live streaming in recent years.

“This is something that really does belong to everybody,” Clayton said. “Who cares whose name is on it? It’s getting done.”

A final House vote on the bill will take place Friday. It will then head to the Senate, where Clayton expects it to pass easily based on the chamber’s previous support for similar bills.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, Whitmer’s co-sponsor, said during a floor speech that the bill would mean that the media could no longer filter information from Topeka.

“As far as opinion articles and as far as, you know, it seems like the information we have up here doesn’t always make it back 100 percent in its entirety to the constituents we have back home,” he said.

The Kansas Press Association has been one of the bill’s staunchest supporters and newspaper editorial boards have called for passage of similar legislation.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3