The Illinois General Assembly Should Increase Transparency and Access by Posting Videos of Hearings Online

May 12, 2023

This week, the Civic Federation released its annual analysis of the State of Illinois Budget for FY2024. Among the recommendations made to the Governor and lawmakers was a call for the Illinois General Assembly to increase transparency and accessibility by posting video archives of General Assembly floor and committee hearings.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), all 50 state legislatures now livestream floor proceedings, and most legislatures, including Illinois, also livestream all or selected committee hearings. Most hearings of the Illinois legislature are streamed via video, audio or both on the Illinois General Assembly website. However, Illinois is unlike other states in that the General Assembly does not make video recordings of meetings and proceedings easily available to the public online.

NCSL reports that a growing number of state legislatures are archiving and making available on-demand recordings of floor and committee proceedings online and at no charge. Unfortunately, Illinois is one of only four states that does not archive its General Assembly videos online. The process for obtaining copies of recordings is to submit a request from the Clerk of the House of Representatives or Secretary of the Senate, each of which has different procedures. For example, the House provides video recordings of floor hearings only, and audio recordings of committee hearings. The Senate does not provide any video recordings, and only provides audio recordings of floor hearings (not committee hearings). Per the State’s Legislative Materials Act, the House Clerk and Senate Secretary may establish fees for providing recordings and transcripts. Third-party platform Blueroomstream live-streams selected hearings of the Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Supreme Court and State press conferences, and some of the videos remain online after the hearings. However, a paid subscription is required.

The State is also behind in this regard when compared to all of the major local governments in the Chicago area that provide livestreams and archived video recordings of committee and floor proceedings at no charge online, including the City of Chicago, Cook County, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Park District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Chicago Public Schools. The Civic Federation has long supported livestreaming and video archiving of government meetings. The State of Illinois should join these governments in this practice.

Data collected by NCSL shows that states are varied in the features of their respective online archives. Some are reported to go as far back as the 1990s and others to the mid-2000s. The most user-friendly archives offer a centralized location for both General Assembly and committee videos and offer search features. Ohio offers a good model of a centralized online archive, which also includes videos from the State Supreme Court, as well as speeches and events with the Governor. Videos also have timing markers for each agenda item.

Many states also offer the option to both stream and download the hearings. California allows the option to download the audio, video and captions of each hearing. Some states, such as Minnesota, allow for downloading meeting agendas. Others, such as New York, have the option to download transcripts of certain hearings. Twenty-four states (including Illinois) and the District of Columbia also offer public television hearing broadcasts.

While it is positive that the Illinois General Assembly livestreams proceedings, archiving video recordings online would be an even greater step towards transparency and public access to government. Illinois’ legislative hearings are usually scheduled during the workday when many residents are not able to view them live, and frequent scheduling changes can make it difficult for the general public to keep track of those proceedings.

Requiring the General Assembly to archive videos of its proceedings would entail some investment in online storage and organization. However, since many proceedings are already livestreamed and recorded, there would likely not be significant up-front costs for equipment. An analysis by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office of a 2016 ballot initiative that required, in part, the California legislature to video record and make available online within 24 hours all open legislative proceedings, estimated the initiative would require a $1-2 million upfront investment and ongoing costs of approximately $1 million to implement.

The Civic Federation recommends that the Illinois General Assembly begin to post recordings of floor debates and committee hearings on the Illinois General Assembly website. The legislature should amend the Legislative Materials Act as necessary to update language based on current practices and allow the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate to post recordings online for public access. The law should also specify how long after a meeting the recording must be posted and for how many years it must be archived.