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Idaho group pushes legislative archiving

Dan Popkey
January 17, 2013
Idaho Statesman

Just two months ago, legislative leaders affirmed their decision to remain among 17 states that don't archive floor proceedings and make the footage available to the public.

But last week, IdahoReporter.com, the online news arm of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, began posting the floor sessions on the Web.

The news was noted by lobbyist John Foster, who wrote in his daily briefing, "The videos should give every single legislator pause. . . . It now appears that the IFF will make sure every joke, every nodding off, every slip of the tongue, will be saved for posterity - or political opponents."

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke say they think it's time that the state maintain the video.

"My personal feeling is we need an official archive, one that is accessible by everyone without being filtered through some outside organization," said Hill, R-Rexburg, who met with IFF Executive Director Wayne Hoffman late Wednesday.

CAMPAIGN TACTICS

Among Hill's concerns is possible video manipulation, with no official source to provide context.

"I just don't think it's appropriate that they be the only ones in the world that retain a copy of floor sessions," Hill said. "If they were used inappropriately, the person being attacked would have no defense because there wouldn't be an official archive to look at."

IdahoReporter's content has been used in GOP primary campaigns, Hill noted. Last year, the group published the "Freedom Index," a scorecard based on voting records on key issues. Maurice Clements, a recipient of IFF's Lifetime Achievement Award, blasted Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, for her minus-27 score.

Speaker Bedke, R-Oakley, agrees with Hill. "I don't have a problem with the public looking over my shoulder, but I think it's in the public's interest that there be an official recording."

IFF is capturing video from Idaho Public TV's live-streaming service. IPTV saves that record for one week but has capacity to retain a permanent record at minimal cost.

CHANGING VIEWS

Resistance to a state archive has been led by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who fears an official record will complicate the judicial reading of legislative history and spur grandstanding.

Davis participated in Wednesday's meeting with Hoffman, Hill and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. Afterward, Davis said that he isn't convinced an official archive is necessary but that he is "rethinking what is in the best interests of the state."

Davis, Bedke and Hill sit on the Legislative Council, which rejected archiving at its November meeting but asked the Legislative Services Office to study the practice in other states.

Another council member, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said lawmakers shouldn't wait until the council's May meeting.

"The horses are leaving the barn," Rusche said. "I think we should have that protection for the body and for the members this session."

Hill, Bedke and Rusche said they have no reason to believe IFF will unfairly edit the video, but Rusche concedes the group's agenda worries him. IFF is the loudest opponent to Gov. Butch Otter's call for a state-run health insurance exchange, for example.

THOSE STINKIN' BADGES

Another move by IFF's three Statehouse reporters also has caused a stir. Hoffman, a former Idaho Statesman reporter, has his staff wearing brown name tags of the same style used by credentialed reporters. The name tags are worn by 70 reporters with floor access and other privileges conferred by the Capitol Correspondents Association.

In 2010, Hoffman's staff was denied credentials by the association under the Legislature's joint rules. The reason: IFF's advocacy and lobbying are disqualifying under Correspondents Association bylaws. (Note: Reporter Dan Popkey was among those casting votes to deny the credentials.)

Capitol Correspondents President Betsy Russell said an IFF reporter was on the House floor at least three times during the December organizational session. She said Hoffman agreed to keep his reporters off the floor, but not to give up their brown badges.

"I told Wayne that this is an honor system that's worked for years," said Russell, who writes for the Spokesman-Review. "He said he didn't care."

Hoffman said: "They're reporters. They wear brown tags."

Bedke, Hill and Rusche said they hope Hoffman reconsiders.

"Everybody on the playground knows that's not right," Bedke said. "I expected better of the Idaho Freedom Foundation."

Hill said he hopes to avoid having to change the rules to deal with the issue. "We've got more important things to concentrate on without trying to police access to name tags," he said.

Hoffman said he is not reconsidering his decision on the badges.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438 Twitter: @IDS_politics


Originally posted at http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/01/17/2415221/group-pushes-legislative-archiving.html

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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