Back in October, I noted an effort by the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, which is presided over by state Sen. John Carona, to crowdsource its upcoming hearings on payday lending. The Statesman has a report on how things have gone so far.
Several times in recent months, the Senate panel and the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency have used Twitter, live blogs and other online tools to try to broaden citizen involvement.
“I absolutely love it,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a co-chair of the joint committee. “We don’t make as many copies as we used to, and that saves money, because it’s all online in real time. People can participate from any point in the state without coming to Austin, and it’s much easier for them to be involved.”
For Zaffirini and other lawmakers, a switch to using online meeting software, streaming video and other Internet options has allowed them to avoid some travel expenses and to circulate documents and draft proposals without incurring copying charges.
A live blog of a meeting earlier this month of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee got nearly 1,000 hits — a record, said committee director Steven Polunsky.
In the online blogs, updates about testimony, research materials and written testimony by witnesses are posted instantly.
Viewers can watch and submit their feedback or ask questions. The process is more interactive than simply streaming video of the hearing online.
To assist tech-savvy Texans who attend the Capitol hearings, the Senate panel is now posting QR codes — those box-shaped matrix barcodes used widely by businesses — to allow smartphone users to quickly find the committee’s website.
That lets people in the audience at the hearing participate, as well, as the session is under way.
Polunsky said the changes have been “very well received” by the public.
Sounds good so far. As long as this is being used as an enhancement to hearings and not as a substitute for having them in other parts of the state, it’s all good. I’d say the logical next steps are to incorporate Skype or some other webcam technology and allow remote testimony, and to take questions from the feedback given during the hearings. I’m sure this will evolve in ways none of us currently anticipate, and that’s fine. The whole idea is to improve and build on what we currently do. More information, and more ways to access it effectively, are good things.
I expressed my concerns about this in that previous post. Some unnamed critics express theirs in this story:
Though proponents of online legislating predict it could play a larger role when the Legislature reconvenes in 2013, questions remain about just how available the information might be to many Texans who don’t have the time to sit at a computer and monitor or participate in a hearing or who might not use Twitter or even have a computer.
Um, just how available is any of this information now to Texans who don’t have a computer? I don’t recall seeing any newspaper stories about either of the hearings referenced in this story. Given the cutbacks in the news industry and the sharp reduction of actual reporters filing actual stories from the Lege, the only way anyone would know anything about this stuff is online. Like I said, unless this is used to substitute Austin-based hearings for hearings that would have been held elsewhere in the state, it’s an enhancement to what we have now. If we’re really worried about disconnected people being left behind, let’s work on ensuring there are fewer disconnected people.