Virtual access to Capitol would benefit citizens

When citizens want state legislators to hear their opinions, nothing beats coming to Olympia and testifying in person. When lawmakers sense the passion and force behind public testimony, gleaned from observing body language, it can impact their decision-making.

But when lawmakers schedule public hearings on short notice, traveling to Olympia poses a burden for some, especially those on the eastern part of our state, and for almost everyone except registered lobbyists

The Legislature could mitigate those issues and improve public access to government by employing modern teleconferencing.

At a recent lunch hosted by Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Sen. Karen Fraser urged the use of technology to increase public testimony. Her plea was echoed by freshman Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.

Remote testimony would save time and travel expense for citizens, while giving the impact of a personal appearance, something that written submissions cannot capture.

Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center, recently testified remotely to the Nevada Legislature. Citizens in that state, he says, can testify from 200 locations and, via a external port, from anywhere in the world.

Given the benefits to citizens, our Legislature should include the modest expense to enable video testimony in next year’s capital budget.