Friday to bring first for Senate committee: allowing remote testimony

padden_pqThis Friday the Senate Law and Justice Committee will make history by letting three people offer testimony without having to travel to the Capitol. Sen. Mike Padden, committee chair, said the 8 a.m. work session will offer the first real test of videoconferencing technology he hopes to use more during the upcoming legislative session.

“Think about how the challenge of traveling to the Capitol has prevented people, going back to territorial days, from speaking out about legislation affecting them. That’s especially true for people east of the Cascades and in the northwest and southwest corners of the state. A ZIP code should not determine who does and doesn’t have an opportunity to be heard, and technology provides a solution that we will test at Friday’s work session,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

The three who will testify via videoconference from Building 15, Room 210 on the Spokane Community College campus are Jason Mercier, with the Washington Policy Center, and two Spokane Valley police officers: Chief Rick VanLeuven and Deputy Todd Miller, a drug-recognition expert.

Mercier, director of the WPC’s Center for Government Reform, will testify about amending Washington’s constitution so the state’s nine Supreme Court justices, now chosen at large, are elected from districts instead. VanLeuven and Miller will report to the committee about the next-generation breath-alcohol testing devices being put into service by law enforcement.

Dr. Herb Hill, longtime chemistry professor at Washington State University, will be in Olympia to update committee members on the development of a breath-analysis test for marijuana. Rounding out the work-session agenda will be Paul Jagosh, from the National Association to Protect Children, who will talk with the panel about funding investigations of internet-based crimes against children.

Since becoming committee chair in 2013, Padden has frequently allowed policy experts to address members of the panel by telephone. He hopes Friday’s videoconferencing test will set the stage for using the technology regularly during the 2015 session, and eventually lead to a day when testimony about legislation may seamlessly shift between people in committee-hearing rooms at the Capitol and those in remote locations around Washington.

“Although people throughout our state can and do provide written testimony, e-mail doesn’t allow for the same dynamic sort of discussion that leads to more-informed decisions,” said Padden. “Video technology will allow people to engage almost as though they are in the hearing room with us.”

Mercier shares Padden’s interest in making government more open and is looking forward to trying the new approach.

“We are very excited and grateful that the Senate is testing the option of remote testimony. Washingtonians from across the state should have the opportunity to participate in the legislative process without having to deal with winter driving conditions over the Cascades or spending the entire day traveling. We are hopeful that remote testimony will continue to be offered during the 2015 legislative session and become standard operating procedure for the House and Senate,” Mercier said.

Padden will be in Olympia for the annual fall assembly of legislative committees, when lawmakers review the performance of new laws and discuss issues that could become the subject of new legislation. The 2015 legislative session begins Jan. 12.