When information technology staff began using virtual tools to host the Wyoming Legislature’s meetings in 2020, they faced plenty of challenges. Here’s how the Legislative Service Office created a system that streams legislative meetings for constituents who wish to listen to and testify before committees.
Like most state legislatures at the beginning of 2020, Wyoming was already audio livestreaming legislative floor proceedings. Since 2015, IT staff have also provided an online hotline where constituents can leave 140-character text comments to express support for or opposition to pieces of legislation.
Over the last four years, we livestreamed 20 interim committee meetings each year utilizing the Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service and the executive branch’s Enterprise Technology Services Department. To testify before those committees the public needed to visit the Capitol or, in the interim, that committee’s designated remote site.
Urgent Need for Virtual Service
Legislative leadership recognized early in the pandemic that virtual participation during interim committee meetings was an immediate necessity. For the Legislative Service Office IT staff, the challenge was to initiate virtual meetings early in 2020 with no blueprint for accomplishing the task. First, we needed to consider what we had available, what the legislature could afford to use and how best to secure whatever system we chose so that our members were protected.
During 2020, we pivoted to a fully virtual meeting model where members of the public who wished to observe could watch the hearings via the Wyoming Legislature’s YouTube channel. Those who wished to testify registered on our website and addressed the meeting via the Zoom platform when it was their turn to speak. During the rest of the meeting, they watched the proceedings on our YouTube channel. We have deadlines for registering to testify virtually, and the chair always has final authority.
Wyoming has traditionally held some joint interim committee meetings remotely in Jackson, Lander, Casper, Gillette and other locations. Meeting in different parts of the state allowed constituents to testify who might not otherwise do so if they had to travel to the Capitol.
For the 2021 interim, we are creating a list of approved remote sites across the state with adequate space for our meetings and the audio and videoconferencing systems that would allow the committees to meet via Zoom. The sites under consideration are public entities—school districts, state agency facilities, community colleges, public libraries—allowing the legislature to use the spaces at minimal cost.
If this hybrid model is approved, use of any remote site would be at the discretion of the committee chair and the management council. All committee members and staff would travel to the remote location for the meeting. The hybrid model would allow Wyoming to return to the time-honored tradition of holding some in-person meetings at remote locations. And, by using locations with adequate audio and video capabilities, we would provide a way for constituents to watch or listen to the meeting through our YouTube channel and to testify, if they want. Wyoming’s proposed hybrid model would serve both those who want to watch committee proceedings in person and those who cannot travel.
As many have seen in the last year, some state agencies had to cut travel costs to balance their budgets. Using a hybrid model would allow agency staff to attend and testify when needed without incurring travel costs.
Our YouTube channel lets us stream all meetings that are held in person, and the public may switch between the Senate and House streams, which may be running simultaneously. The site also allows us to provide constituents with meeting recordings they may view at their leisure. Many of the videos have been reviewed hundreds of times, meaning they’ve been seen by many more people than any of the physical committee rooms could hold.
The IT division of the Wyoming Legislative Service Office is proud to provide the legislature with the technology and flexibility it needs to include the citizens in the legislative process.
Jamie Schaub is the information technology manager for Wyoming’s Legislative Service Office. Schaub is a member of the National Association of Legislative Information Technology (NALIT). NCSL has resources on remote public participation in committee meetings and live webcasts.