Marc Kovac: Thumbs down to Ohio Senate decision against broadcasting

Record-Courier Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- Two big thumbs up to State Rep. Ron Amstutz and the Republican leaders of the Ohio House for broadcasting finance committee budget hearings.

And thousands of big thumbs down to the Ohio Senate for deciding not to follow suit, leaving Ohioans who can't make it to the Statehouse with no means of keeping track of deliberations on the most important legislation of the session.

The latter indicated its decision on taping hearings late last week. The reason?

According to Senate GOP spokesman John McClelland, "The president has decided against the live broadcast of Senate committees at this time. President Faber has repeatedly said he is not willing to expose the committee process to political grandstanding and protest."

That's nonsense.

Take a look at the House Finance website (online at www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/finance-and-appropriations).

It's a treasure trove of useful information for anyone wanting to know where different groups and lawmakers stand on the $63 billion-plus in general revenue spending proposed for the next two fiscal years.

You can view videos of the session.

You can download amendments offered, including those that failed.

You can even read testimony from state officials and special interest groups.

Want to know why House Democrats don't like Gov. John Kasich's turnpike plan? Listen to the debate on Feb. 27.

Want to sing "Kumbaya" as those same lawmakers join hands with Republicans to pass lesser-debated budget bills? Same day, same videos.

Want to listen to the governor's budget director read lengthy written testimony and then answer lengthy questions about the contents? Check out the clips from Feb. 5.

It's all posted, in real time and readily available to anyone who wants the information.

That's the way government should work, out in the open, all of the cards face up on the table, with no hoops to jump through to access the details.

Granted, most of the real budget deliberations are happening behind closed doors, but the House's decision to broadcast and provide a user-friendly site to follow the legislation provides a new and welcome dimension to public access.

Unfortunately, that's not the case in the Senate, where members apparently fear broader access their public sessions.

There's no good reason for that stance.

The chamber already has access to the necessary equipment. Cameras have been used during recent committee hearings on school safety issues.

In fact, there ought to be cameras in every committee hearing room. At the very least, there ought to be cameras in the Finance Hearing Room when Senators are deciding how to spend billions of dollars of our money.

House Republicans have proved the setup can work for the public good.

And I've noticed no great increase in "political grandstanding and protest" since the cameras were introduced. Politicians from both sides of the political aisle are apt to grandstand and protest whether they are being recorded or not.

The Senate's decision against broadcasting budget deliberations is a wrongheaded. Let's hope leaders change their minds before the main operating budgets moves out of the House.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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