Providing opportunity for remote testimony and improving public notice

Mar 3, 2014

At the invitation of Rep. Pollet and Rep. Hawkins (Co-Chairs) I had the opportunity to make a presentation before the House Open Government Caucus today on ways the Legislature could accommodate remote testimony and improve its public notice process.

In a bit of irony, when my plane landed in Seattle I saw that I-90 was closed. It was against the backdrop of this headline from KING 5 News that I made my remote testimony pitch: "No estimate when I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass will open"

Even when there isn't snow related issues in the Cascade Mountains, getting to Olympia to provide testimony can sometimes require a full day of travel for many Washingtonians:

  • Walla Walla to Olympia – 312 miles (5 hour 20 min drive)

  • Spokane to Olympia – 320 miles (5 hour drive)

  • Kennewick to Olympia – 265 miles (4 hour 20 min drive)

  • Bellingham to Olympia – 149 miles (2 hour 40 min drive)

  • Vancouver to Olympia – 106 miles (1 hour 45 min drive)

This is where remote testimony can help close the distance and provide all Washingtonians the chance to be part of the legislative process.

Making opening comments before my presentation was Colin Hastings, President of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, who provided members with context on why remote testimony options and improved public notice is important to businesses and citizens in Eastern Washington as well as across the state.

So how could remote testimony work? There are several options:

  • Videoconferencing - Nevada: “With videoconferencing, we can tie into our University’s network and communicate with rural Legislators and their constituents, saving time and travel for those Legislators. Since 1997, we have videoconferenced 3,294 hearings during session, from the capital in Carson City to the largest city in Nevada – Las Vegas”

  • Teleconferencing - Alaska: “Constituents may participate in legislative committee hearings and/or constituent meetings with legislators using teleconference facilities.”

  • Web form testimony - Washington: The Legislature has launched a new comment form on bills this session. According to staff, “Copies of comments are placed in a database for review at the members’ convenience and are distributed to the members e-mail system as they are received.” These comments, however, are not automatically sent to committee members at the time of a hearing on a bill nor are the comments reflected in the bill reports. To enhance this new resource, the official committee agenda notice could include a note that testimony may be offered via this web form. Those checking a box indicating they want their comments to be considered official testimony and entered in the bill report could have their comments sent directly to the committee members the day of the hearing.

Although there is broad support for allowing remote testimony, there is concern that it would be disruptive to the current hearing process. To avoid disruptions different rules could be in place for those wishing to provide remote testimony.

For discussion purposes, a remote signup sheet could be used with citizens placed in a queue managed by committee staff. Signup for remote testimony could be required the day before the hearing (assuming proper notice of the meeting was given) so a Chair would know the universe and location of potential remote testimony before the hearing starts.

Testimony could then be taken first for those in Olympia with time reserved for those participating remotely. Chair could determine how much remote testimony to take per bill. As is the case with those attending in person, being in the remote testimony queue would not be a guarantee of being able to testify – time dependent.

Of course, the ability to provide remote testimony will only be as good as the public notice of a hearing to begin with. This is why enacting legislative transparency reforms like those proposed by HB 2369/SB 6560 would be beneficial.

I would like to thank again Rep. Pollet and Rep. Hawkins and all the members of the House Open Government Caucus for their interest in providing citizens the option for remote testimony. For those stuck on the other side of I-90 today take heart, you may soon have the opportunity for some version of remote testimony.

Additional Information
Remote Testimony Presentation
Expediency can keep the public out of the public’s business in Olympia
(Spokesman Review)
Presentation: How Nevada’s teleconferencing system works

Nevada legislature’s bill authorizing the teleconferencing process

Alaska’s remote testimony teleconference system for citizens

Coalition calls on lawmakers to adopt legislative transparency reforms
Opening the doors to Olympia with remote testimony
HB 2369/SB 6560: Increasing legislative transparency