Decision on State Senate broadcasting still in the air

<em>The Colorado Senate chamber</em>
The Colorado Senate chamber

In the long march toward greater governmental transparency in Denver, the Capitol may be reaching a milestone. Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the The Colorado Independent that, despite last-minute setbacks, the Executive Committee, which is comprised of the leaders of the House and Senate, is “down to the short strokes” in completing the deal to finally begin broadcasting floor proceedings from the Senate chamber.

“We’re very close,” the Longmont Democrat said. “There is a $45,600 shortfall in operating funds but there are cost-savings that will be made now in coordinating [Senate] and House broadcasting.”

Shaffer said that the Executive Committee next meets in August and that there is broad bipartisan support to bring broadcasting to the Senate for the coming session.

“I cannot guarantee it … but we’re all in favor of the project. We’re all strong supporters of greater transparency — myself, Senate Minority Leader [Josh] Penry … We all want to do it and I expect we’ll get there.”

The project was apparently green-lighted by lawmakers last session, but Shaffer said that the legislative budget is yet to be finalized and that the Executive Committee is still determining where best to find the funds to set the project in motion.

Denver-based nonprofit media company Deproduction was contracted by Denver 8 TV, the city’s government channel, to begin broadcasting House deliberations two years ago. Deproduction manages production for the Colorado Channel, which broadcasts House proceedings. In the spring, Deproduction was unofficially awarded the Senate contract and began making preparations to set up equipment this summer. The vagaries of the financing put a halt to those efforts.

Deproduction Executive Director Tony Shawcross told The Colorado Independent that, for now, he’s unsure where the project stands.

He said lawmakers decided this session to establish an Authority Board that would take over management of the broadcasting from Denver 8 TV. Deproduction would be contracted to set up and run the first year of broadcasting under the new Authority Board, which would review the project the following year. The Authority Board will include staffers from the legislature and the governor’s office.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said Shawcross. “There is $100,000 worth of equipment purchased by the legislature sitting there. We were set to go. But then suddenly we found ourselves in a little bit of limbo.”

Shawcross said that at some point last month it became unclear whom he was dealing with at the Capitol.

“They established the Authority Board, but I don’t think they have actually built the board with staff yet … So suddenly the lines of decision-making grew dim.”

The deal to begin broadcasting House proceedings was pushed through two years ago this fall by then-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff raised more than $250,000 from private donors to cover a significant portion of the costs of the project, but Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon failed at the time to raise the estimated $130,000 it would have taken to also hook up the Senate. The money set aside to spend on Senate broadcasting operations went instead to buy the equipment now sitting idle at the Capitol.

Shawcross agrees with Shaffer, though, that the Senate saved a lot of money by waiting.

“In engineering costs, general set-up, I would say the Senate will spend less than half the money it took to get the House fully operational.”

Although the price tag may sound high in an era of low-cost digital communications, the Senate proceedings will be broadcast live on The Colorado Channel as well as on the Web. Broadcasts are also available on demand. Initial investments cover the cost of staff, control-room equipment, fiber-optic cables and infrastructure adjustments in the more than 100-year-old Capitol building.

Deproduction employs two staffers to run the House broadcasts and expects to hire one additional staffer if it were to begin broadcasting the Senate proceedings this session.

“Financially, we realize it’s a challenging time for the Senate to take this step. But we’re very excited about helping to open the lid on the state Capitol and helping our communities get more informed and involved,” said Shawcross.

He added that Deproduction has worked out kinks during the last year and a half it has been broadcasting from the House and is prepared to move quickly in the Senate.

“We know the building. We know the operation. We’d just like to receive a definitive go-ahead and get started,” he said.

Edit note: The original version of this story reported that Denver Open Media, the city’s public access station, broadcast the House proceedings and would also broadcast the Senate proceedings. In fact Deproduction staff broadcasts the House proceedings on the Colorado Channel, which would also air the Senate proceedings. Denver Open Media and the Colorado Channel are both projects managed by Deproduction.

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