Legislative Site Again Allows For Recording

February 2, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveWhat a difference a day – and a story – makes.

The capability to record Internet live streaming of the S.C. House and Senate when the chambers are in session apparently is back, at least temporarily.

The recording function returned to the General Assembly’s website on Tuesday, one day after The Nerve reported exclusively that it had been removed as part of a recent redesign of the site, scstatehouse.gov.

The overhaul included two major additions that significantly boost the transparency of the Legislature’s business and make the site easier for users to navigate.

“The two major changes to our website are the roll call vote functions and the publishing of amendments,” Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett, who oversaw the revamp, said in an e-mail for The Nerve’s first story.

But the lost recording feature worked the other way.

The recording capability is convenient for voters, taxpayers and other interested parties to keep up with the Legislature if they would otherwise miss the live session because of work, school or other obligations.

The feature also provides a built-in mechanism to document legislators’ deliberations and truth squad them at a later date.

Seeking an explanation for why and how the recording mechanism was brought back, The Nerve inquired with Gossett on Tuesday.

“I mentioned in my email last week that we are still making changes to this system,” he said in another e-mail. “This week we are testing some different options to address some video quality issues we have been experiencing.”

Gossett said in his first e-mail that the recording function was removed as part of some changes to a video streaming page on the site.

“As you can now see, the page allows users to view additional information in the same window with the video; the calendar, amendments, etc.,” Gossett said. “In order to make this function possible, we switched to an Adobe Flash format. I believe this is a fairly standard Internet video format. However, it did result in the loss of the recording feature in RealPlayer that was used in the past.”

But now, as was the case before, the live streaming can be recorded onto a hard drive.

Two staff members of Legislative Printing Services, which does the live streaming, declined to comment and referred questions to Gossett.

South Carolina Educational Television, one of a few things Gov. Nikki Haley has suggested the state defund to help cover a projected $800 million-plus state budget deficit, provides audio and video signals for live streaming the session.

“And that’s about the amount of our involvement,” says Ed Goodwin, ETV’s steaming media specialist. Goodwin says ETV equipment transmits the signal. “But we don’t actually do the live streaming.”

Praised by Senate leaders, the additions to the site make it much easier for people to monitor how their legislators vote and conduct the occasionally inscrutable amendment process.

“Mister chairman, it’s my understanding that the clerk has done a tremendous amount of work on our website, and it’s going to be very user friendly for the public,” Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said in a recent Senate Rules Committee meeting.

Gossett elaborated in his e-mail.

“If you explore the website you can see the many different areas and ways that roll call votes can now be easily found,” Gossett said. “There is also an area that lists every amendment that is proposed in the Senate and House. Previously, the only way to find this information would be to read the daily House and Senate Journals.”

The Journals separately document each chamber’s business, such as votes, appointments, introductions of bills and statements by lawmakers.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairs the Senate Rules Committee. “It’s pretty neat,” Martin said of the site redesign during the recent meeting of his committee, “and that’s going to be a real good tool for the public to follow us without having to dig down into the Journal.”

The redesign of the legislative website occurred in the off-session between the Legislature concluding its business in 2010 and lawmakers reconvening in January.

Going forward, Gossett suggested in his first e-mail that the portal could continue to undergo changes.

“Since the start of session, we have made many adjustments to these systems and will continue to do so as we find areas that can be improved or the technology changes to make the work done by the General Assembly as easy to follow as possible,” Gossett said.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.