Hey Olympia, embrace remote testimony and let everyone have a say

Delta High School’s principal and three students were the first to use the state Senate remote testimony setup at Columbia Basin College in 2015.
Delta High School’s principal and three students were the first to use the state Senate remote testimony setup at Columbia Basin College in 2015. Tri-City Herald

People who live near the capital city have a huge advantage over other state residents when it comes to participating in the legislative process.

After all, they don’t have to take time off from work, drive for hours or hop on a plane just to speak for a couple minutes to their elected representatives.

But for citizens living far from Olympia — especially those of us on the east side of the state — physically attending a legislative committee meeting can be a real sacrifice of time and money.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The technology for remote testimony has been around for years, and it has worked extremely well when people use it. The problem is that most lawmakers and many citizens have yet to embrace this wonderful conferencing tool.

That needs to change, and perhaps this year it finally will.

With the legislative session beginning this week, and with both Senate majority and minority leaders hailing from Eastern Washington, there is a good chance the use of videoconferencing will increase, especially if it’s promoted.

Senate Majority leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and GOP leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, have said they are committed to the use of remote testimony, according to Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center.

Mercier said its use fell off a bit last session, but he is encouraged that Billig and Schoesler are in a position to help the technology become standard procedure in the Legislature.

The Tri-Cities’ own Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, has been an advocate for remote testimony since its inception, and pledged to help anyone who wants to take advantage of it.

Columbia Basin College site

In the Tri-City area, the setup is at Columbia Basin College in the Social Sciences and World Languages (SWL) building off Argent Road.

Brown said people who want to testify should contact her Olympia office and be very clear that they are interested in using remote testimony.

They should give her as much notice as possible so she has time to arrange everything with the chair of whichever Senate committee is involved. Once everything is a go, her office will work with CBC to get the videoconference ready.

There is a Senate website that tells people about remote testimony and how to testify, and it asks people to register at least 24 hours in advance. It can be found at http://bit.ly/remotetestify.

Already, Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, head of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said he will offer remote testimony this session for those who sign up 48 hours in advance, according to Mercier.

House slow to adopt

Unfortunately, citizens won’t find similar help in the state House of Representatives. So far, only the Senate has supported the new technology.

House leaders need to get with the times, and realize their reluctance to adopt videoconferencing makes it difficult for citizens to participate in state government.

We hope that the Senate uses remote testimony so often that House members will see how well it works and adopt the same system.

In addition to the Columbia Basin College location, remote testimony sites have been set up throughout the state in cities such as Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Spokane, Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Vancouver, Ellensburg and many others.

This is a non-controversial program that all lawmakers should support. Why the House has decided to ignore it is a puzzle.

Even Sen. Brown called using remote testimony a “slam dunk” decision.

The technology is in place — lawmakers just need to make using it a priority and it will happen.

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