In an effort to boost its openness, the Utah Legislature has added the ability for Internet surfers to click on several audio files of legislative debates.
Want to hear the discussion on Salt Palace funding? Find out what they said about the midwifery bill? Or, why they decided not to phase out the corporate income tax?
It's all online at http://www.le.utah.gov. New this year, the Web site has audio files for floor debates on all pieces of legislation listed with the bill's status. Every time a bill was brought up on the floor - even for a motion to hold it - there is an audio portion so you can hear what happened. Committee audio is not yet available.
That's a change from the past when residents or researchers had to trek up to the Capitol, read through a journal of actions and then find the segment they were looking for in an archive of compact discs. It was a tedious and time-consuming effort to get what sometimes amounts to a few moments of recordings.
But for people such as Kara Trevino, the Web site is "remarkable."
Trevino, the legislative director for the Salt Lake County Council, says she uses the Web site all the time to grab audio files from the debates. The recordings, she says, help her know what concerns lawmakers had when they voted down or approved legislation
"I was able to listen to some debates that I missed to give me background on why it failed or passed," Trevino says, "or just to get a sense of the reasons behind the bill. I love it."
The Legislature's information technology director, Mark Allred, says audio recordings of House debates have been online for a while, but were not as easily available since they weren't linked to the bills. Now, the Senate debates have been added and the audio files are listed with each piece of legislation.
"It just wasn't as easy as it is now," Allred says.
The Legislature already has ventured into cyberspace to allow Internet users to listen to or watch its floor debates in real time and the Web site hosts a library of information, including rosters of past lawmakers, years of legislation and a citizen's guide to lawmaking.
And there may be more soon. Allred, at the request of lawmakers, is researching whether the Legislature will put the live audio of committee hearings online and also include clips of those meetings with each bill.