Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Connect the Capitol

If plans stay on course, it won't be long before Idaho citizens can sit in front of cameras around the state and converse with their legislators in Boise.

A spokesperson at the Legislative Services Office says the House and Senate will have two-way video technology installed in the newly renovated Capitol when it reopens next year. The rub, of course, will be finding suitable camera facilities in cities around the state for the two-way hookup.

Picture what Wyoming has accomplished with such a system. It actually holds legislative hearings via video conferencing between lawmakers and citizens in several communities simultaneously. Recently, the controversial issue of wolf management was discussed on camera with voters in five communities.

If Idaho's technology replicates Wyoming's system, it may end state government-as-usual. First, voters who lack the time or money to travel to Boise to attend hearings on topics of special interest now would have immediate access to special hearings or panels of lawmakers.

And second, legislators would benefit by being less secluded during their sessions. They would be more exposed to citizens' ideas and less influenced by lobbyists.

As something of a technology geek, President Barack Obama has demonstrated the remarkable political power of two-way access between voter and politician. Some 13 million people signed up to receive his messages during the 2008 campaign and to fire back with comments.

Idaho's government will be vastly improved with every step toward greater citizen access.

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