Today is Day 1 of North Dakota’s 67th Legislative Assembly. Whether that tickles your fancy or strikes fear into your heart may depend on your views about the role of government in our lives. Regardless, North Dakotans can thank Covid-19 for what appears to be a more transparent legislative session for the populace in 2021.
That’s right. As problematic as the virus has been, one of the things that came as a result of it was funding — to the tune of $1.25 million — that brought technology upgrades to the State Capitol. As noted by the Grand Forks Herald:
“Because of the coronavirus, the state invested in technology to allow lawmakers and members of the public to view and take part in meetings remotely. The state began livestreaming committee meetings out of two committee rooms a few years ago as part of a pilot project, and now all committee rooms will have streaming capability.”
The idea of a more transparent legislature via livestreaming isn’t exactly new. I wrote about it in September of 2019 when Rep. Marvin Nelson (D – District 9) expressed his intention to “shame” the North Dakota Legislature “into improving transparency in the state Capitol” by livestreaming interim committee meetings.
At the time, not everyone felt as enthusiastic as Marvin Nelson did about the idea, but I didn’t see any major downsides to it myself. Among the reasons why is the reality that committee meetings are where testimony is given, public input is heard, tough questions are asked, details are hammered out, amendments are proposed, and recommendations are voted on. Legislatively speaking— these are crucial to the process.
Can legislative meetings be boring? Absolutely. I’ve personally witnessed legislators dozing off, playing on their phones, or coming in late. Perhaps there will be less of that now. Time will tell.
Admittedly, our representative style of government enables us to send others on our behalf to govern the affairs of the state. After all, we have lives to live. But gone are the days of saying that it’s too difficult to be part of — or even observe — the process, because Bismarck is so far away for many of us. Going forward, it’ll all be there at the click of a button. And I think that’s a good thing— in spite of the fact that it took Covid-19 to make it happen.
(Note: If you’d like to be more involved by doing things like submitting testimony, following bills, contacting legislators, and watching livestreams, you can click here.)
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- Pandemic ushers in better citizen access to North Dakota’s legislative session | Grand Forks Herald
- Should the ND Legislature Livestream Committee Meetings? – The Minuteman Blog
- North Dakota Legislative Branch | (nd.gov)