A new report from local watchdog group the Bureau of Governmental Research is urging all government bodies to permanently retain the COVID-era practice of livestreaming public meetings, and called on the state Legislature to pass laws to make it a requirement.
Although some government bodies, like the New Orleans City Council, already livestreamed their meetings, others began only after the pandemic forced an end to in-person meetings in 2020. And BGR is urging those entities to continue even once in-person meetings resume.
Already, one of the organizations mentioned in the report — the French Quarter Management District — has resumed in-person meetings and stopped providing livestream access to the public.
“As public entities return to in-person meetings, they have an opportunity to preserve the benefits of remote access by livestreaming and archiving video recordings,” the report says. “The increased access online and on demand is important because government entities usually hold meetings during normal business hours when it is inconvenient or impossible for most citizens to attend.”
The report focuses on four public agencies that weren’t livestreaming prior to the pandemic: The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the Regional Transit Authority, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which manages the Superdome and Smoothie King Center.
Combined, those entities received $229 million in tax revenue in 2019 alone. According to the report, the Convention Center and RTA both plan to continue livestreaming. The Stadium and Exposition District hadn’t made a decision yet. And the flood authority said it wasn’t set up for it but “would do so if required.”
The report notes that under a 2013 state law, all four of those entities are required to “video or audio record, film or broadcast live all proceedings in a public meeting” because they have the power to levy taxes. Prior to the pandemic, all four entities claimed to abide by the law by providing archived audio recordings upon request, the report says.
But BGR argues that the Louisiana Legislature should add a new provision to the state’s Open Meetings Law to require livestreaming and easily accessible archives, even for government entities that aren’t covered by the 2013 law.
“Legislative attention to this issue is overdue. Some of Louisiana’s open meeting statutes date to the 1950s, long before the digital revolution transformed the way people receive and transmit information.”
The report says that the requirements should differ based on “the magnitude of the entity’s responsibilities and public funding.”
“For entities with substantial responsibilities and funding, the access should consist of live and archived video. For entities with lesser responsibilities, an online archive of video meeting recordings may be sufficient.”
Some public entities that started streaming during the pandemic were simply sharing live recordings of zoom meetings. That’s different from streaming, recording and archiving an in-person meeting. But the report argues that the technical and monetary barriers to adding those capabilities are minimal, especially when compared to the public benefit.
“Recording a meeting could be as simple as setting up microphones and a stationary video camera,” the report says. “Livestreaming meetings would require software to process the meeting video for live broadcast over the internet, but such investments are modest compared to the benefits of increased citizen engagement.”
The report says that government bodies that don’t currently host a website can simply set up a free YouTube channel. BGR adds that the state should appropriate all state entities with technical support for recording and live streaming.