Nebraska lawmakers advance proposal for video archive of legislative proceedings

Four states, including Nebraska, lack such an archive
One of the recording cameras on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature, used for livestreaming...
One of the recording cameras on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature, used for livestreaming floor debates through Nebraska Public Media. A proposal would create and maintain a video archive of floor and committee proceedings. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)(Zach Wendling | Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 2:24 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) - Lawmakers gave first-round approval Monday to a proposal that would create a video archive of Nebraska legislative proceedings, an effort that has spanned multiple years.

Legislative Bill 254, proposed by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would create this archive, bringing Nebraska to the same level of access to legislative proceedings as nearly every other state, as well as Congress and many local levels of government. The proposal advanced 33-0.

Brewer introduced a similar measure in 2022 that “just ran out of time.”

Nebraska is one of only four states — in addition to Illinois, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — that do not have archived webcasts, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

Brewer said LB 254 would help Nebraska “live up” to the ideals of George Norris, whose idea of the Unicameral was to promote transparency and uplift the citizenry as the “second house.”

“Norris said to get good government and to retain it, it is necessary that the liberty-loving, educated, intelligent people should be forever watchful to carefully guard and protect those rights and liberties,” Brewer said.

Brandon Metzler, the clerk of the Legislature, testified in a neutral capacity at the bill’s public hearing that he and the Clerk’s Office are prepared to help.

“We are in a place with video now that we have not been previously, and we feel comfortable with what you choose to do going forward,” Metzler told the Legislature’s Executive Board on Feb. 10. “We’re arms open, willing to work to get a product out there … that’s both transparent but also what you want for a professional representation of the Legislature.”

‘Catch up’ with other states

Brewer noted that transcripts for specific hearings or floor proceedings may take months to be prepared, and people may miss livestreams for a variety of reasons.

Citizens may also be interested in multiple proposals that have hearings at the same time, which happened this year regarding proposals on abortion and voter ID.

“This bill is what we need to do in order to have Nebraska catch up with all of the other states,” Brewer said.

State Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington said she has watched committee proceedings about bills expected to advance to the floor, in order to become informed.

DeBoer added that senators also might miss part of their own committee hearings because they need to introduce a bill at a different hearing in another room.

“I think this is just a fantastic bill,” DeBoer said. “I appreciate all the people who have worked to put our hearings up online in the past, and I appreciate that this bill will do that going forward.”

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha said the bill would be a step toward increasing transparency in a year when members of the public were blocked from testifying on key legislation.

She offered an amendment to require closed captioning in English and Spanish, which Brewer said he’s supportive of and could discuss with interested parties ahead of the second round of votes.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said the proposal would update and modernize “tools of open government” available to the Legislature.

She suggested adding two bills also intended to increase transparency.

One is LB 366, proposed by Conrad, to increase access to public records, including law enforcement officers’ body-worn cameras in the case of an in-custody death following a grand jury investigation. The other is LB 637, proposed by State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, to require that members of the public could speak at any meeting that is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Albrecht said she would be supportive of efforts to add her bill to Brewer’s LB 254. Conrad told the Nebraska Examiner that instead of Brewer’s proposal, efforts “remain in conversation to find another vehicle to move the open meetings measure forward.”

Lawmakers also voted 34-0 to add LB 90, which removes required audits of the Nebraska Advantage Act and the Nebraska Job Creation and Mainstreet Revitalization Act. State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, chair of the Legislative Performance Audit committee, offered the amendment as both programs have reached their sunset.

Executive Board property

Legislators also gave approval, 30-0, to an amendment clarifying the Executive Board’s role in the archive.

State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, chair of the Executive Board, said these amendments include clarifying that the board will:

  • Develop policies and procedures for the creation and use of the system.
  • Stipulate that the recordings are not official records of the Legislature.
  • State that recordings shall not be used without the express permission of the Executive Board.
  • Determine how closed captioning will be utilized.

Briese said that since the bill’s public hearing, there have been talks on whether the archive could be up and running prior to January 2025, as currently stated in the bill.

The bill includes costs of $257,000 and $312,407 for the next two fiscal years, respectively.

Briese said a new fiscal note will be drafted prior to the second round of debate to move the timeline forward.

State Sen. Rob Clements of Elmwood, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said he is “pleased” the bill is moving forward and said some expenses would go toward adding equipment and technology for the archive.

“That’s not a problem in our budget,” Clements said. “That’s quite affordable.”

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