Digital Gov’t two-step: Senate broadcasting greenlighted; staff net-access still filtered

The leaders of the state legislature danced a kind of forward-back tango with the internet this month. The Senate at last found the money to fund live online broadcasting, but the leaders tried and failed to secure unfettered access to the Web for their staffers, who are blocked from surfing freely for security reasons and for the sake of workplace efficiency– so they can’t waste hours watching the “stock ticker” or “sports scores,” as one Legislative Council staffer put it.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Colorado Independent last month that the executive committee of the legislature, which includes leaders from both parties in the House and Senate, would find the money to begin broadcasting Senate proceedings by the end of August.

“We’re down to the short strokes,” he said at the end of July. “We’re all committed to greater transparency… we’ll get there.”

In an August 17 executive committee session, staffers informed the legislative leaders that they had found the last $15,000 needed to make broadcasting Senate floor sessions a reality.

The House has been broadcasting for two years, catapulted onto the Web early largely due to the efforts of then-Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who raised more than $250,000 from private donors to cover initial costs of the project. Then-Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon failed to raise the estimated $130,000 it would have taken to also hook up the Senate.

Denver-based nonprofit media company Deproduction was contracted by Denver 8 TV, the city’s government channel, to begin broadcasting the House deliberations. 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, however, put what turned out to be a temporary halt to those efforts.

In the same August 17 executive committee session, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry related the frustration of members of his staff attempting to work on the Web in the Capitol but hobbled by filtering software designed by a company called Websense. The frustration crossed party lines.

Penry staffers complained about being screened from Google Docs, YouTube, Bloomberg, the Christian Science Monitor and the National Rifle Association site. House Speaker Terrance Carroll’s staff wanted access to the political blog Colorado Pols. Shaffer suggested scrapping the filtering system altogether.

It’s frustrating because it’s hard to identify the “universe of information” staffers will look to draw on day to day just doing their jobs, Penry explained to Council staff Michael Adams.

Lawmakers’ computers are free of the filtering software and so they can surf unhindered.

For now, their staffers remain Web blocked. The filtering program is under review but will remain in place. Penry’s staff can’t access the NRA site. Carroll’s staff won’t be reading Colorado Pols.

Hat tip to Don Knox at State Bill.

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