Monday, November 23, 2009

Support Grows for Legislative TV Channel by Support grows for legislative TV Channel By Amanda Cedrone -

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From left: Sen. John J. Bonacic, Sen. José M. Serrano, Assemblyman Ronald J. Canestrari and Assemblyman Darryl Towns listen to comments about how to expand an existing legislative television channel. Photo by Bob Bennett, Gazette photo.

The New York State Legislature Joint Advisory Board on Broadcast of State Government Proceedings met last week to discuss the future of the current legislative television channel.

The board, which is co-chaired by Sen. José M. Serrano, D-Bronx, and Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, has been appointed the task of expanding the content of the existing New York state Legislative channel. To accomplish this, the board recommends expanding the channel into a fully independent New York state government affairs channel modeled after C-SPAN.

"For too long the inner workings of the legislative process have been shrouded in secrecy," Serrano said. "By lifting the curtain, not just on legislative sessions, but on other important parts of the legislative process, we are providing programming that enables the public to become engaged in the workings of government and to take informed positions on the issues that matter to them."

The existing legislative channel was created in January 2006 when the Legislature sought to increase transparency and provide New Yorkers with greater access to proceedings in the Senate and Assembly chambers.

The channel broadcasts Assembly and Senate sessions. The board recently announced that beginning in January, all legislative hearings will also be broadcast. Serrano said his "highest priority for the channel is that it be completely free of any government appointees" and "completely nonpartisan."

Canestrari noted that the board's goal is to broadcast a full spectrum of governmental affairs content on the channel, including committee meetings, Court of Appeals hearings and hearings by the Board of Regents.

"Now we're not going to do just budget meetings, we're going to do Assembly hearings," said Canestrari.

The majority leader said the channel now remains dormant when the Legislature is not in session. With the expansion of the channel, much more content will be broadcast, regardless of whether the Legislature is in session.

"Why couldn't we [broadcast] Court of Appeals hearings when we aren't in session?" said Canestrari.

Board members hoped to achieve a better idea of the timeline of the project and the cost of the project through the hearings, in addition to soliciting ideas and opinions on how to improve upon the channel from those who testified.

Members of Common Cause/NY, a government watchdog group, have applauded the work of the board "to open up the legislative process with a public affairs channel."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY spoke at the hearing to offer advice on the expansion of the channel. Lerner emphasized the importance of involving the public in the hearings, saying that it is "crucial they be involved" if the channel is truly to benefit them.

"Often times, the public has strong opinions and good ideas," said Lerner.

Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, who also spoke at the hearing, emphasized a number of factors important to the success of the channel including that it be accessible to all, involve all three branches of government and be non-partisan.

Tim Rooney, president and CEO of The Cable Telecommunications Association of New York, Inc, answered questions from the board regarding the estimated timeline of the project as well as the cost.

Rooney said that initially expanding the channel will not take long.

"As soon as [the Senate and Assembly] are ready to provide hearings for us we'll put them up," said Rooney.

The cost of the channel has not been estimated as the board is still developing ideas through hearings around the state.

"I know the state doesn't have a lot of spare change to be throwing around on this," said Rooney. "And the business community doesn't either but, from what I've gathered at the meetings I've had to date, I think we're going to be able to have a really dramatically improved product in a little while. You are already producing the content and that's the most expensive part."

Eventually, members of the board hope the channel will be as comprehensive and successful as C-SPAN, though they acknowledge that channel took 25 years to get to where it is today.

"We have to start with the lowest hanging fruit first," said Horner. "We have to draw people into the process to get them to know what's going on."

Serrano also noted that all committee rooms are currently being hardwired for broadcast and that the process should take another four to six weeks.

"We've been able to get away from politics and truly decide the best way to put together this channel," said Serrano.

Other members of the board also include Sens. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, David Valesky, D-Oneida, John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope and Assembly members Darryl Towns, D-Brooklyn, Margaret Markey, D-Maspeth, and Jane Corwin, R-Williamsville.