‘Transparency bill’ embraces the post-COVID government livestream

An Indiana Senate committee Thursday approved legislation that would require more local governments and school boards in Indiana to livestream and archive their meetings.

The Indiana Senate Local Government Committee passed House Bill 1167 in an 8-2 vote and amended it to push its effective date to 2025.

It will be sent next to the full Senate.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, presented the bill to the committee, describing it as a “transparency bill.” He said it would require local units of government to livestream their meetings and archive them for 90 days. Following this period, they could be disposed of.

Smaltz said the bill wouldn’t require smaller committees to record their meetings and that it is aimed towards “fiscal bodies’’ such as county commissioners, county executives, county councils and town councils.

Smaltz said people would like to watch and see how money is spent and what activities are happening at the local level.

Ways and Means clears permitless carry bill, passes to the House floor

School board meetings would be included in the bill, but Smaltz said smaller county school boards wouldn’t be required to stream their meetings unless they had the equipment and space for it.

“If all the equipment’s already there, didn’t cost them anything, and it’s pretty easy to do, we want them to do that. But if there’s a meeting in the back of a firehouse township advisory board, three members and the township trustee, we’re not talking about them at all,” Smaltz said.

Smaltz also pointed out that “a lot” of government meetings happen in a “busy society where people can’t attend because of time or great distance.”

“I think there’s meetings that we all might be interested in … and right now, other than the minutes, which are from one person’s perspective and are oftentimes quite a summary of lengthy meetings, it doesn’t really provide a great example of what happened during that meeting,” Smaltz said.

Smaltz mentioned his community of Auburn, saying its county commissioners post their meetings on YouTube.

“The time has arrived that technology is so inexpensive that there really isn’t any reason that we can’t deliver transparency,” Smaltz said.

Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., D-Portage, raised concerns about the bill, saying that a board or commission president could move a controversial meeting to a different area where they wouldn’t have to stream the video and there would be no recourse.

Smaltz said he would find that situation to be “very fishy,” and that would attract people’s attention.

Amelia McClure, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, testified in favor of HB 1167.

McClure said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political subdivisions have adjusted to livestreaming and recording public meetings and have seen it as an “effective way to modernize and expand democratic participation.”

She said the bill would ensure people have the opportunity to participate in local government.

Xain Ballenger is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.