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Money Signed for Webcasts of Legislative Proceedings

By Barry Massey/
Associated Press
      SANTA FE — It's live! Late night from the Senate floor.
    New Mexicans should soon be able to use their computers to hear or watch proceedings of the Legislature because of money signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson.
    And when lawmakers aren't flexing their legislative muscles, they can head off for a workout inside the Capitol using exercise equipment that can be purchased with $25,000 that was signed into law.
    Tucked away in a bill financing more than $700 million in capital improvement projects was $75,000 to plan and buy equipment for Webcasts of legislative proceedings. The measure also contained the money to buy exercise equipment for the Capitol.
    Currently, 40 states provide live audio or video broadcasts of legislative proceedings over the Internet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, said a Webcast of House and Senate floor sessions will allow more New Mexicans to follow decision-making in the Legislature without traveling to Santa Fe.
    "Until now, the only people that really knew what was happening in the Legislature were the people that sat in the gallery. So people throughout the state now can watch what is happening in the House and in the Senate,'' said Boitano. "It will make legislators more accountable to the people of New Mexico. I think they'll understand a little bit better what citizen legislators do.''
    There's no plan or timetable for the Webcast operation. It's uncertain whether the Legislature might start with just an audio broadcast of certain proceedings or whether video will be available of all House and Senate floor sessions, gavel-to-gavel coverage.
    The Legislative Council, a group of legislative leaders and members, will be asked how to proceed with the Webcast proposal, according to John Yaeger, assistant director for legislative affairs for the Legislative Council Service.
    Questions also surround the exercise equipment.
    Yaeger said no decisions have been made on what equipment will be purchased and where it will be located. There's also the matter of who can use it. Just legislators? Legislative staff? The governor and his staff? The public?
    "We'll have to figure out space and logistics,'' said Yaeger.
    The idea of a fitness center in the Capitol isn't new. Last year, Richardson vetoed $85,000 that lawmakers had approved for exercise equipment. Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, secured $25,000 this year.
    Boitano sponsored the Webcast proposal and previously has sought money for necessary equipment. However, Richardson vetoed $50,000 last year in one bill and $75,000 in another measure that was for equipment and planning of a Webcast of the Legislature. The governor said there wasn't adequate planning for the initiative.
    The Legislature approved $150,000 this session for a Webcast operation — $75,000 in the capital outlay bill and $75,000 in a so-called junior budget measure. Richardson vetoed the $75,000 in the budget bill but the other money was signed into law.
    Richardson already is ahead of the Legislature in taking advantage of Webcasts.
    At the start of the legislative session in January, Richardson arranged for a live Internet video broadcast of his State of the State speech to a joint session of the House and Senate. When the governor signed legislation this month to require paper ballots in New Mexico elections, a broadcast of the event was available on Richardson's campaign re-election Website.
    Pam Greenberg, who tracks legislative technology issues for NCSL, said Washington state was the first — in 1996 — to provide Internet broadcasts of legislative proceedings. Some states also archive Webcasts so people can view previous broadcasts of floor sessions.
    "There is just a growing demand for this information and this kind of way of getting unfiltered legislative information,'' said Greenberg.

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