By Amelia Heymann – Capital News Service
There is nothing more entertaining than politicians being snarky to one another, save for maybe a YouTube video of a sneezing panda. Now you too can watch the drama and eye rolls as they happen at Capitol Square.
All committee meetings and floor sessions at the General Assembly are open to the public. However, you don’t have to be in Richmond to watch what is going on. Thanks to the internet, you can view legislative deliberations and debates online.
The Senate of Virginia and Virginia House of Delegates each offer a daily live-stream of their floor sessions. They have been doing that for about a decade. What’s new is that both chambers now are archiving the videos so you can watch the recordings if you miss the live shows.
You can find the links to the House and Senate floor-session videos by going to the General Assembly’s website – http://virginiageneralassembly.gov – and clicking on “Members and Session.”
Since January, for the first time in Virginia, committee meetings also can be viewed online, thanks to the nonprofit group Progress Virginia. It has launched a video service called Eyes on Richmond (eyesonrichmond.org).
On that webpage is a calendar listing the House and Senate committee meetings scheduled on any given day. Eyes on Richmond can broadcast four different live-streams simultaneously. The calendar shows which committee meetings will be on each stream.
The project’s home page displays the live or most recent broadcast on each of the four stream. Archives of all the committee meetings that the project has recorded are available on the service Ustream (ustream.tv).
Alan Gibbs, an intern with Progress Virginia, has been recording legislative committee meetings since Jan. 9 – the week the General Assembly convened.
“When it first started, it was dicey. People were uncomfortable, because they hadn’t been filmed before,” said Gibbs, a political science major at Virginia Commonwealth University. “After the first week, it was normal.”
Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said transparency has always been a priority for the group. She believes legislators are likely to act differently when they know they are being recorded.
Scholl said tens of thousands people have watched the Eyes on Richmond streams, but to her organization, it’s not about numbers. “I think we are always hoping to increase it, but for us to even have five people watching is worth it,” Scholl said.
Republican leaders in the House said transparency is what motivated them to create an online archive of their daily floor sessions this year. The Senate followed suit at the urging of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who had been advocating for such a system for nine years.
“Sometimes things take a long time to get updated around here, but I’m glad we finally got this through,” Petersen said. “Having the video online is all about transparency. Not everyone can come down to Richmond to watch the Senate floor. And not everyone can watch us live. With the online video archive, constituents can hold us accountable, and we can share what’s happening in Richmond with the people back in our districts.”
Before this year, if citizens, journalists or legislators wanted a recording of what had happened on the House or Senate floor, they had to buy a DVD from each chamber for $12 – and it contained the video for just one day. For a 60-day session, it cost more than $1,400 to have videos of every floor session.
For years, Waldo Jaquith, who established the website RichmondSunlight.com, purchased the General Assembly’s DVDs and uploaded them for the public to view. Jaquith tweeted about his relief after the House and Senate decided to archive the videos of their floor sessions.
“It took me nine years, but I am done buying Virginia legislative DVDs,” Jaquith wrote on Twitter. “I’m chalking this up as complete victory.”