By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – House Chief of Staff Aaron Goulette has explained the reason Tuesday’s meeting of the Ways and Means Committee was not live-streamed: It was not intended to be aired.
Goulette explained that, although the House’s electronic calendar indicated a livestream option, it was due to an oversight when placing the meeting on the calendar. “It was just a leftover button that had the YouTube livestream text on it. That was kind of like a holdover that wasn’t cleaned up,” he said.
The electronic calendar serves as a handy reference tool to find out what meetings are scheduled each day, but it is not the definitive version, Goulette said. Official meeting information still appears on the old paper or PDF House Record, compiled each Thursday evening and sent out to House members and other interested parties. Any meetings that will be livestreamed will be noted there, Goulette said.
Asked who decides whether a meeting will be live-streamed, Goulette said the decision ultimately rests with Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry. Committee chairs may suggest meetings where there is a great deal of public interest — redistricting is such a topic, Goulette said — but the House Speaker will approve or deny such a request.
Goulette said the House is considering the purchase of additional electronic equipment and staff to air more committee meetings, but currently there are only five rooms that are set up for live-streaming, and some 20 committees that meet in the Legislative Office Building.
“From our researchers’ perspective, because they were so busy with running Zoom meetings all day, they had to do the research at night or on the weekend. That’s not necessarily what they were hired to do.”
He said that, going forward, if they are going to do live-streaming, “we need to do it a little bit better, and that means getting more microphones in the room so folks on the other side can hear better, and things of that nature.”
To open up more meetings to remote viewing, the House will have to evaluate the cost of the equipment and hire personnel to maintain, provide technical support, and troubleshoot it, Goulette said.
“There is no reason why the Speaker would have to wait for this committee to make a decision,” he said. “Presiding officers on the House and Senate side look forward to having this as a standard offering for people to view remotely.”
While the legislature is bound to a level-funded budget, Goulette said there is some leeway to purchase equipment and make new hires. “We’re evaluating that but obviously the labor market and wages are at an interesting point right now, so we’ll have to see if that flexibility translates into our ability to be competitive and recruit the talent that we would need in to run an audio and video production department within the legislature.”
As for the equipment, “If you want to do it right, you’ve got to have a certain number of microphones, one for each House member at a table which sometimes ranges up into the low twenties, then at least one for the person testifying.”
Add to that cameras capable of picking up everything going on the room and a streaming computer, and costs add up. However, there is some technology money in the budget and the federal government may be able to help as well, he said.
The other side of it is for the public to have access, and broadband is not universally available.
“The bottom line is we’d always have to have what I call an analog option for folks who operate in an analog way,” he said.