Wyoming Legislature to Advance Video Streaming Pilot in 2018

After calls for access to meetings during interim months, the state legislature is moving ahead with a live-streaming project.

by Joel Funk, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle / December 21, 2017
Wyoming State Capitol Building in Cheyenne, WY. Shutterstock

(TNS) – CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Legislature moved forward proposals that would implement a pilot program for live video streaming of meetings during its interim months.

But to do that, it’s going to require a serious culture change for how meetings are conducted around the state, Legislative Service Office (LSO) Director Matt Obrecht said.

“If the Legislature wants to stream all of its interim committee meetings, we’ll definitely need a change in culture in where we hold committee meetings, in Management Council policy,” Obrecht told lawmakers Tuesday in Cheyenne. “To effectuate those changes in policy, we’ll probably need additional staff and definitely need additional resources, whether that’s budget or equipment.”

The Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council – which includes Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, and House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper – discussed the possibility of streaming committee meetings online in 2018. With meetings spread across Wyoming during the Legislature’s interim months, interest groups, media outlets – including the Wyoming Tribune Eagle – and others have advocated for livestreaming to increase transparency and access.

During its November meeting, the Legislature’s Select Committee on Legislative Facilities, Technology and Process passed a motion recommending the Management Council implement streaming on a trial basis for the 2018 interim to see how and if such an idea could work. But it was clear during the council’s Tuesday meeting in Cheyenne there are a lot of barriers to overcome to allow for livestreaming on a large scale.

For one, some meetings are held in locations that lack the bandwidth to stream live video or audio. It could affect holding meetings in less-populated and rural areas – a notion some lawmakers think could decrease the public’s ability to provide comments in person. Livestreaming also becomes quite costly, as it would require technology, training and potentially additional staff to facilitate consistent streaming. There are also complicated questions about how to ensure lawmakers can count on maintaining confidentiality between themselves and LSO staff – effectively their legal counsel.

Lawmakers were given three options for video streaming:

  • Contracting with Wyoming Public Broadcast System (PBS) to provide high definition, television production quality broadcasts with PBS staff handling the operation
  • Contracting with Wyoming Enterprise Technology Services to broadcast meetings using Google Hangouts OnAir or YouTube Live, with equipment owned by the Legislature and operated by LSO staff
  • Record and broadcast meetings using a packaged system that is integrated into a legislative management system.

A fourth option of simply providing audio recordings was also recommended at no additional cost.

Whatever lawmakers choose to do, Obrecht said it needs to be dependable.

“People will rely on it,” he said. “People won’t drive to Lander for a meeting because they think they can hear it on the internet.”

The council voted to advance the first two options – to work with PBS and Wyoming Enterprise Technology – for a total of 20 meetings with livestreaming as a pilot project in 2018. The cost to implement the PBS option would require an allocation of around $9,000 for 10 meetings, and it’s estimated the latter option would cost around $3,000 for another 10. However, the second option would likely end up costing more, said Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.

A bill that would implement the project was tabled by the council until its final meeting after the New Year before the 2018 session.

©2017 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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