February 4, 2013

New TV coverage will show what lawmakers are up to

MPBN's answer to C-SPAN – a channel devoted to live House and Senate action – debuts Monday.

By GLENN ADAMS The Associated Press

AUGUSTA - Mainers will soon be able to keep a closer eye on their lawmakers.

click image to enlarge

Eric Bunford, an editor and director for Maine Capitol Connection, tests the system that will be used to broadcast live legislative sessions at the State House.

The Associated Press

Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Maine Capitol Connection channel is expected to go on the air Monday and feature day-and-night, gavel-to-gavel House and Senate coverage, plus hearings, news conferences, interviews and events of the day under the Augusta dome.

A state version of C-SPAN, Capitol Connection will start off as a pilot and make changes as needed, said Mal Leary, managing editor.

Capitol Connection will provide "a window into the work we are doing," said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

House of Representatives coverage will be transmitted live, followed by recorded Senate proceedings that often take place at the same time as House activities. Some days, Leary said, the Senate will be covered live and House taped.

"Certainly the more light we shine on the work in Augusta, the more lawmakers can be held accountable to the people we serve," said Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

Once budget hearings conclude, coverage will move to hearings on high-profile issues like gun control or school funding.

The channel is also intended to be educational. In one piece, the state chief justice will explain how the court system works. In others, legislative leaders will give the inside view of State House workings, and explanations will be given of the often complex relationship between the federal and state governments, said Leary, a three-decade State House reporter and open-government leader.

The idea of televised legislative coverage has come up now and again through the years, and it gained momentum last spring following discussions among MPBN, legislative leaders and Gov. Paul LePage, who supports the idea, said Maine Public Broadcasting Network President Mark Vogelzang.

Vogelzang said he's confident the project will be a success, and he has received positive feedback in the run-up to the channel's debut. Leary thinks the program will get an ample audience.

"There's a lot of people out there who won't watch all the time but will watch when there's something of interest to them," Leary told WCSH-TV.

Last week, legislative leaders approved the plan for the channel through June, when the legislative session is due to end, and while it could continue next year, there's no commitment to do so.

Launching of the programming required significant technical preparation in the weeks leading up to its debut, including outfitting a control room in the press area of the state office building. But thanks to forethought by planners when the Capitol Complex was renovated more than a decade ago, much of the necessary wiring was already in place.

Maine joins roughly half of the states with similar coverage of legislative events. But in Maine, the signal will be carried via cable as well as over the air, so everybody -- including people out of cable range in remote areas of the state -- can get it.

MPBN's $250,000 to $300,000 annual cost for the programming is all borne by member contributions.


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