House panel passes bill to let state lawmakers hear public testimony from remote locations

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

For Colorado residents who live far from the state Capitol, testifying on proposed legislation wouldn’t necessarily mean a long and sometimes perilous drive to Denver under a bill unanimously approved by a panel of state lawmakers Monday.

HB 14-1303 would let legislative leaders make rules so that House and Senate committees could take public comment on bills from remote locations around the state using video teleconferencing technology. The remote sites would be at state colleges and universities.

“The ZIP code we live in should not dictate how much we can participate in our government,” said Ellen Satterwhite, testifying on behalf of Colorado Common Cause.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, specifies that at least one remote-testimony site must be located on the Western Slope.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino

“It’s obvious to us why we would like to see the opportunity for remote testimony,” said Diane Schwenke, CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. She told members of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that she encountered six traffic accidents on her drive to the Capitol. “Passes this morning were not the greatest,” she said.

Remote testimony is common in Alaska and Nevada, according to Legislative Council research. Betsy Bair of the Grand Junction Chamber said 39 states have some way of letting people testify over long distances, with Wyoming using Google Groups.

Colorado would use software that costs about $1,000 a month and “is smoother than trying to do Skype,” said Legislative Council Director Mike Mauer. Total costs are expected to be about $150,000 in FY 2014-15 and at least $125,000 the next fiscal year.

“This isn’t going to be millions of dollars,” Ferrandino said. If approved, the program could be up and running on a limited basis by the start of the 2015 legislative session.

The bill, which passed the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on an 11-0 vote, next will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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