Question of the Month: Do state legislative committees in the Midwest allow for remote testimony by video conferencing or other means?
Most legislatures do not have firm rules in place, and nearly all committee witnesses still make their statements in person, according to a recent CSG Midwest survey of the region’s legislative service agencies. However, most states in the Midwest do provide remote testimony as an option in certain situations — especially those in which an invited committee guest faces travel-related obstacles.
This year, in two states outside the Midwest, Colorado and Washington, pilot programs tested the feasibility of expanding opportunities for all citizens (not just invited witnesses) to testify before legislative committees.
By signing up in advance and then traveling to a designated remote location, residents could speak at select legislative hearings without having to travel to the state capitol. In Colorado, two colleges — located on opposite sides of the state and a long distance from Denver — were chosen as remote sites. The pilot project was the result of legislation passed in 2014 (HB 1303).
In the Midwest, the Nebraska Legislature has the most explicit written policy on videoconferencing. Adopted in 2013, this policy requires the consent of the legislative committee chair as well as the sponsor of the bill, resolution or interim study. The committee chair must also receive a request for remote testimony at least two weeks prior to the hearing date. This extended notice is required because Nebraska’s Capitol building only has two hearing rooms with videoconferencing capabilities.
Remote testimony becomes part of the official record if submitted (in PDF format) no later than a day after the hearing. In their responses to the CSG Midwest survey, three states — Illinois, Kansas and North Dakota — reported that they do not take remote testimony in legislative committees.
In other states, videoconferencing is only used sparingly. Here is a summary of the responses to the survey:
Remote testimony has been used in Indiana for out-of-state witnesses invited by a committee chair.
In Michigan, videoconferencing has been used when a committee is discussing legislation with major implications for far-off areas of the state. Committee staff determines a remote location to use and then works with the Legislature’s technology staff.
Iowa’s interim committees sometimes travel to several sites around the state to take testimony, but no systematic procedures are in place to provide for remote testimony. On occasion, the state’s nonpartisan legislative service agency has been asked to collect comments received online.
In Minnesota, legislative committees can take remote testimony, but in practice, they rarely do. Likewise, remote testimony in Ohio is permitted but infrequent, with the decision on whether to take such testimony left to the committee chair.
South Dakota reports instances of committees taking testimony not only by videoconference, but by telephone as well.
In Wisconsin, remote testimony is not widely used and is usually only arranged upon invitations by the committee.
|Stateline Midwest: December 2015||2.03 MB|