Mainers could get the opportunity to see their legislators in action under a proposal to install cameras in the House and Senate to create video archives and perhaps a live visual Internet feed to those tuning in from home.

A bill presented by state Rep. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, calls for installing the cameras for a one-time cost of $45,900 and annual operating expenses of $1,700. The initial purpose would be to create a more immediate visual archive versus the typed transcription now available, which runs behind.

Trahan told the Committee on State and Local Government that people already have suggested the cameras be used to allow people to watch the Legislature in action over the Web. Currently people can listen to the House and Senate and all standing committees in real time via the state’s Web site.

Trahan said giving people a chance to actually see their legislators in action would reduce cynicism about government and politicians and shine a little light onto late-night sessions where important issues, like the state budget, are often decided.

“Unfortunately, it is common practice for the Legislature to hold session after midnight, and, on occasion, until the sun rises. Historic, new legislation and policy have been eloquently debated, battled and settled late in the night when the vast majority of people affected are literally ‘in the dark,'” he said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rep. Christopher Barstow, D-Gorham, co-chair of the State and Local Government Committee, which is reviewing the bill. He said it would serve the committee’s goals of making government “more fiscally responsible and efficient for the people we serve.”


His only concern was legislators might “grandstand” if they knew the cameras were running.

“We need to ensure that we keep with our customs of decorum,” he said, including “speaking to the issue rather than speaking to the camera.”

Rep. George Bishop, R-Boothbay, a member of the committee, also declared the video cameras were a “great idea.”

“I’m all for putting information out as far as we can put it,” he said. “It could be live; it could go out on the Internet.”

Trahan said if people actually saw their legislators at work it would help break down bad stereotypes.

“For many, politicians are viewed as one step below an unsavory used car salesman,” Trahan said.


“Some of this public mistrust and contempt is earned, but in my experience, most is just misunderstanding of the legislative process and simple stereotyping,” he said.

Trahan sees the day when the legislative clips could be used by public television, local cable or in school civic classes to get people involved in their government and educate them about the issues.

The cost of installing the cameras was lower than some had expected – making the idea more palatable. Trahan’s bill, however, asks not only for money from the state’s general fund, but also establishes a mechanism to accept private donations or grants.

Barstow said the bill appeared to have bipartisan support on his committee and will be discussed further when the Legislature returns from spring break next week.

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