In the wake of a global pandemic, the Mississippi Legislature was faced with the task of completing the 2020 Session, maintaining safe health protocol, and ensuring they complied with the Open Meetings Act. This has proved to be no easy feat with streaming availability limited in the state Capitol. To date, only the House and Senate floor proceedings are streamed as they occur. They are not archived for viewing.
Providing this convenience, in fact, was already an agenda item for Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann prior to taking office. However, as his staff began to do the research it showed that rewiring a building as dated as the Capitol would prove to be tricky and expensive.
Then comes the Coronavirus epidemic which has brought unprecedented procedural changes that complicate matters even more for the 52 Senators and 122 Representatives.
The Legislature adjourned in March as the pandemic spread in order to comply with the Governor and President’s guidelines but Hosemann and his team knew that they would have to return eventually and likely under health restrictions.
Hosemann said his staff members were presented with an opportunity to partner with Mississippi Public Broadcasting to provide streaming and an archival system for at least one meeting room. MPB offered this service at no charge to the Legislature.
Executive Director of MPB, Ronnie Agnew said when the Lt. Governor’s team contacted him about making this happen quickly, he was able to send a television crew to set it up.
“I’m so proud of them. It’s not perfect because it was done quickly, but it is doing what we needed to accomplish, which was allowing the public to see what happens in a committee room,” said Agnew. He added that he was just happy MPB could lend their expertise and help out not only legislators but the public.
When lawmakers returned in May for a short time to begin appropriating the $1.25 billion given to Mississippi in the CARES Act, the Senate’s largest meeting room, Room 216 or the old Supreme Court room, was wired for streaming.
“I think it is a significant matter of convenience and will allow us to maintain social distancing, but also I think that members of the public need to have access on a personal basis with members of the Legislature. So, as soon as the people can come back we will welcome them,” said Hosemann.
The streaming is often linked to the Lt. Governor’s Facebook page and is posted and logged on the Mississippi Legislature’s Youtube channel. MPB has agreed to continue this service in room 216 for the remainder of the year.
“Often times I go back a lot and will listen and always pick up something else I might have missed,” said Hosemann.
So far the public has had the opportunity to steam hearings featuring officials from Entergy, Public Health, Education more.
Making this a permanent staple is still on Hosemann’s agenda. He said with budget restraints this year, for obvious reasons, it may take longer than he had hoped to integrate a system in the Capitol. He said his intention is to have multiple rooms available for streaming.
While they have the access to room 216, he said that is where they plan to hold primary hearing. This reason is two fold: the larger room allows for people to spread out and the streaming availability provides transparency to the public.
Hosemann said MPB has been a wonderful partner during this time of strange protocol.
To add to the list of speakers, the Senate will welcome State Economist Darrin Webb and Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson will speak in 216 at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday May 26.