Residents around the state of Wyoming had a rare opportunity, albeit a brief one, to listen to their lawmakers debate policy via an online broadcast Tuesday.
Unlike posting official audio recordings of meetings, the Legislative Service Office could conduct live broadcasts without a change in statute, LSO director Matt Obrecht told WyoFile.
Last session, the Senate killed a bill to make audio recordings from committee meetings available to the public online. The Legislative Service Office can’t post recordings online without such a bill because of a special confidentiality statute for lawmakers, Obrecht told WyoFile at the time.
During meetings, there’s always the possibility of a conversation between a lawmaker and an LSO researcher or attorney being picked up on a recording along with public testimony, Obrecht said. Such conversations are confidential under Wyoming statute, which protects communications between lawmakers and the attorneys that draft their legislation under the cloak of attorney-client privilege.
Recordings made by his staff are considered public record, Obrecht said, which means the LSO is responsible for redacting any confidential information accidentally picked up. Thus, to post the audio online would have required more manpower than his agency could afford, he said, noting that last year the LSO staffed 156 days of legislative meetings. The failed bill last session would have made posting recordings feasible by stating any conversation picked up on the recording was not confidential.
With a livestream however, the confidentiality rules do not apply. While the Legislature is exempt from Wyoming’s Open Meetings Act, livestreams are allowed with the permission of the chairmen running the meeting, Obrecht said Tuesday. “Whatever you say, whatever’s picked up is broadcasted, it’s out there already,” he said.
If the Legislature’s Management Council directed them to, the LSO could livestream any meeting where the chairmen gave staffers permission.
In June, Wyoming PBS received permission to broadcast a joint meeting of the Revenue Committee and Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle demanded that lawmakers “step out of the darkness” in an Aug. 27 editorial. On Sunday, the Casper Star-Tribune’s editorial board called for the Legislature to do so using Facebook Live.
“The Wyoming Legislature should invest in some basic equipment – we’d suggest a smartphone microphone and a tripod, for a total that barely reaches into three figures — and suddenly be equipped to connect with the rest of its constituents,” the editorial read.
Beginning live broadcasting of meetings would need some discussion, Obrecht said, to decide what service to use and how to ensure the broadcasts would be consistently delivered from interim committee meetings in various corners of the state.
Obrecht wouldn’t be surprised if the issue came up at a management council meeting soon, he said.
Clarification: This story was updated on Nov. 20 to include the Wyoming Tribune Eagle call for livestreaming on Aug 27. — Ed.