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The Shining

When lawmakers tackle Web cams, it’s time to watch out!

February 11, 2009, 12:00 am

It’s the year 2059: Instead of trading barbed arguments and veiled insults, legislators wage cross-committee battle with streaming video: eye for an eye, Web cam for a Web cam. In fact, everyone in the audience has brought a Web camera, too, so they can zoom in and twist the images of their lawmakers. It’s all-out Web cam chaos, and nothing ever gets done because adjusting the Web cam’s focus has become the focus of committee hearings.

Or at least that’s the future Martinez suggested might develop if the rules committee failed to pass version two of his resolution. Some members were still uncomfortable with the idea of giving committee chairmen the sole authority to ban or allow live streams.

“What if we had dueling Web cams?” Martinez posed to the second and final rules committee on the subject.

After two subcommittee meetings, the only difference between the first draft of the resolution and the second is that it gave the Legislative Council Service the authority to begin a pilot program with audio streams from the floor and a handful of committee rooms. The streams will be live and not archived, Martinez said, because it would cause a public records nightmare.

In the end, the resolution left the committee with only one dissenting vote: Stapleton, who felt like the whole thing was a waste of time.

“My 18-year-old son can come in here with his camera and take videos and pictures,” she told SFR immediately after the meeting. “Anybody could come in here without having permission and do it. Just because a representative decides to do it publicly doesn’t mean we should pass a law.”

Indeed, Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Doña Ana, tried to clarify whether permission could be received verbally or if it had to be in writing. At the same time, Cervantes was filming the committee from his laptop—without asking permission from the committee chairman.

Republicans were not impressed with the outcome. Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Bernalillo, called it a “pseudo-victory.” Martinez told the committee that in coming sessions the House can install a camera capable of zooming in on every face on the House floor; McCoy says she would’ve been happy with a single, static camera in the meantime.

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” Martinez tells SFR.

But if there’s already free audio available online, what did the new process actually achieve for New Mexico’s citizens?

“It makes a policy that audio and video [are] allowed on the floor and in committees, where that wasn’t quite clear before,” Martinez says, pointing out the rule passed unanimously on the House floor. “From a policy point of view, it’s a huge step; from a planning-tool point of view, it’s a huge step. It’s hard to steer back once you point it in that direction.”

But for Arnold-Jones, there really wasn’t much of a difference; now she’s officially allowed to do what she was doing already without a rule.

“I was hoping they would be a little more ‘proactive,’ but we got a big step, don’t you think?” Arnold-Jones says wryly. “I am not satisfied. The technology is too simple, and we’re making it much more complicated than it is and than is has to be…The truth is, if you’ve got a computer, you can just plug in a camera. What’s the big deal?” SFR

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