COLUMBUS -- Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) deserves public kudos for his decision to allow the broadcast of three additional legislative committees.
It's a big step in the right direction.
Floor sessions of the Ohio House and Senate have long been streamed and recorded, providing a way for everyday Ohioans to keep tabs on what their lawmakers are up to on any given session day.
During the past couple of sessions, legislative leaders also have allowed the broadcast of finance committee hearings. And last session, they expanded broadcast to budget conference committees.
But for years, the Ohio House and Senate have blocked the Ohio Channel from streaming and recording committee hearings, a befuddling decision, given the online age in which we live -- even more so when you consider that Statehouse committee rooms are already wired for broadcast, and the necessary camera equipment has already been purchased.
Some lawmakers have pushed for full broadcast of all committee hearings. State Reps. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) and Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) last session introduced legislation that would have required it; that bill received one hearing, in the waning days of the lame duck session.
Anyone wanting to watch committee hearings has to either travel to the Statehouse or hope a credentialed Statehouse reporter, like me, is on hand with a camera of some sort to record the proceedings.
(Even that latter has been problematic; I've attended committee hearings in the past where television cameras were ordered out of the room.)
There's really no excuse for not broadcasting and recording committee hearings in this day and age.
Enter Obhof, the new Senate president, who moved quickly in announcing plans to expand the televised coverage of committee hearings. His plan calls for streaming of up to three additional standing committees over the Ohio Channel (ohiochannel.org).
"This is the people's house," he said in a released statement. "Technology gives us the opportunity to increase transparency and participation by bringing the legislative process to Ohioans wherever they are. We look forward to using it to provide our constituents with greater access."
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) agreed, adding in a statement, "Televising more committees will be a tremendous public service for the citizens of Ohio -- many of whom are unable to travel to the Statehouse because of other commitments. I strongly support open government and look forward to the further expansion of public access to the legislative process."
And over in the House?
Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has not yet solidified that chamber's plans for committee broadcasts during the new session.
Spokesman Brad Miller said in a released statement, "The House led the charge four years ago on expanding openness and transparency through online streaming of finance committee hearings. Transparency continues to be a very important priority for the caucus, and this will be one of the many issues that the Speaker and members will address in future discussions."
Marc Kovac is the Capital Bureau Chief. He is on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.