Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ohio Legislative Committees; Let the Sun Shine In [UPDATED].

Eric’s comment in the first post about the budget hearings re-raises a good point. Sadly, a citizen – even an engaged and tech-savvy citizen – can do little to keep track of how our General Assembly deliberates. Most of the real legislative work is done in committees. That’s where the body takes what testimony it will in support or opposition to a bill, it’s where most of the amendments are attached and it’s where the majority of bills whither and die.

Yet, for all their importance, committee hearings in Ohio generate little in the way of a permanent record. On the Federal level, every hearing of every committee is transcribed and, except for the few that get classified, the transcripts are available at your nearest Government Documents Repository. Not so in Ohio. Our committees record what witnesses they heard from and the results of any votes taken. That’s it. And if the hearing minutes are posted on line, I can’t find them.

So we have to rely on our friends in the media. That, needless to say, has limited utility. Committee hearings require a reporter to sit for a day, hoping something interesting happens. Last week’s hearings went well into the evening most nights. From what I heard, most of the best pro-public ed. speakers didn’t get to the stand until reporters had left to file stories.

If all this sounds fuzzily familiar, it’s because I posted a few weeks ago about a bill freshman proposed by Rep. Steve Dyer (D-Green). The bill is now posted – it’s H.B. 147. It would require, that “[t]he minutes shall, at a minimum, consist of a paraphrased summary of all testimony and exhibits presented, all discussion had, and each question asked and answer given during the meeting.” The bill also gives the committee the discretion to prepare a transcript of the hearing. Best of all, Rep. Dyer hasn’t forgotten his blogger friends:

    When the minutes are available for public inspection, the secretary shall file them with the clerk. The clerk shall post the minutes on the general assembly's web site in a manner that links each portion of the minutes that is relevant to a particular bill or resolution to the legislative history of that bill or resolution.
Unfortunately, no one I talk to gives Rep. Dyer’s bill much chance of getting a hearing. It hasn’t yet been assigned to a committee, so I can’t even tell you who to bitch to. On the other hand, Rep. Jennifer Garrison’s attempt last year to require the House to post floor votes in an online, searchable database did eventually result in something close, and better than what we had before. As long as we have some members who are interested in open government,

CORRECTED to add the last link, but see the discussion in comments -- the vote function appears to be buggy. And since it's a Java error, I tried it in both Firefox and IE -- still no dice.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

yeah that posting votes thing hasn't really panned out. Check out the transportation bill (HB67), which is the only one I can think of that's passed so far this session. When you click on the link to see votes, it just tells you to check the journal (a paper document you have to go to the Statehouse to read)

Pho said...

Anon:

If you scroll down, you see a Java error. It appears the function has been installed, but isn't yet working. Not exactly the first time a new computer app has gone buggy on rollout.