|Posted by Ed Priola on November 3, 2009 at 2:50 PM|
In a democracy, information about the process, not just the end results of policy decisions that impact our jobs and families, is critical. So why is it that so many politicians try to keep us in the dark? It’s simple: knowledge and power are entwined and they want to monopolize both.
A case in point was last week’s U.S. Senate Finance Committee decision to reject a proposal that would have made health care legislation, along with its cost, public on the Internet 72 hours before it is voted on. The single-party ruling political elites rejected the proposal despite a recent Rasmussen poll showing that 83% of the public supports the idea. By the time most citizens heard about it, it was too late to do something about it.
Undeniably, sunlight is still the best antiseptic for government arrogance. The more citizens see politicians’ behavior in real time, the more they can take action to blunt it.
Let’s start shining more sunlight in Maryland to end the one-party stranglehold on information coming form our state legislature. Let’s start with a common sense plan of broadcasting unfiltered television and Internet coverage of all state legislative activities, just like C-SPAN does for Congress. Let’s call it “MD-SPAN” (Maryland Sunlight Public Affairs Network).
MD-SPAN will bring government decisions closer to citizens for their scrutiny. We will hear and see exactly what our representatives are doing with our tax dollars, in real time, so we can act if necessary. We will also likely increase the amount of hours legislators work on the legislative floor. According to one study, since C-SPAN began covering Congress in 1979, the U.S. House of Representatives sessions have increased by about two minutes per bill and the Senate sessions by about four minutes.
With 43 states and many localities having adopted the C-SPAN model of broadcasting the activities of elected officials, why hasn’t Maryland? New York voters have had access to televised proceedings of their legislature for several years. The Florida Channel offers television coverage of all three branches of Florida's government. Oregon offers unedited cable coverage and live streaming video.
Maryland’s local jurisdictions are increasing their government coverage. The Howard County Council began live-streaming its sessions this month. Prince George’s County Council sessions are videotaped and broadcast on the county cable system on the same day. Baltimore City Council meetings are televised live and re-broadcast.
Despite the widespread availability of technology, the majority party in the Maryland General Assembly has not loosened its grip on the public’s access to its decision making process. According to its website, “Maryland General Assembly's legislative information is updated each night during the 90-day session.” But, to receive more frequent “up-to-the-minute” updates you must pay $800 for an annual subscription.
MD-SPAN is a step into the 21st century and an idea that’s long overdue.