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ND to study livestreaming legislative meetings

BISMARCK (AP) — The North Dakota Legislature will study livestreaming committee hearings at the Capitol but also will update rules to crack down on lawmakers recording the meetings and floor sessions on their mobile phones, a committee decided Thursday.
North Dakota is one of only eight states that don’t provide live webcasts of at least some committee hearings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Legislature’s floor sessions have been aired online since 2013. Committee meetings are taped and audio recordings are available to the public but some lawmakers have pushed to air the meetings live online to increase transparency and bring the state up with the times.
“We need to move forward on this,” said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who heads the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee. “It might be a session or two before we have it in every room.”
The 10-member committee, which consists of Senate and House floor leaders, voted to study the costs of livestreaming with an aim toward a trial run in two committee rooms before the Legislature meets again in 2021.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert voted in favor of the idea but said it needs to be “fully vetted” by the entire Legislature before all committee hearings are livestreamed.
He warned that many of the live online meetings “would be like watching paint dry.”
Kyle Forster, an information technology manager, said two committee rooms, including where the panel met Thursday, have cameras but the licensing and software needed to livestream meetings has languished.
Forster estimated it would cost about $225,000 to equip the 13 committee rooms at the Capitol with the equipment needed for the livestreams, along with annual cost of about $100,000.
Republican House Speaker Lawrence Klemin criticized lawmakers who record meetings or floor sessions on their mobile phones, saying it was a distraction and inappropriate.
“You are here to be working,” he said.
The Legislature already has rules that forbid lawmakers from talking on their phones during meetings or floor sessions. However, they have not been updated in years and they do not address video-capable mobile phones, said John Bjornson, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm.