A new pilot project will let people from around the state testify at public legislative hearings without having to come all the way to Boise.
Each year, when the Idaho Legislature meets, they have public hearings on bills at the Statehouse in Boise. But it isn’t always easy for people in Sandpoint or Moscow, or Idaho Falls to get to those hearings and have their say in person. Now there’s a new pilot project designed to help people who live 100 miles or more from the state capitol.
Before Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee was a state Representative, she worked at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. Back then, half of her team was not in her workplace and video conferencing was an everyday way of doing business.
When the Genesee Republican joined the Legislature, she had a constituent in Moscow who wanted to testify on a bill in Boise but couldn’t afford the plane fare. Troy helped her get a ticket but the hearing was moved several times and the woman never got to testify.
“It was unfair for constituents who live too far away from Boise to not be able to come and present their side of the story,” says Troy.
Troy says there are other logistical problems that keep people from coming to the Statehouse.
“Lots of terrible roads between point A and point B, if B is Boise and just really important to hear those perspectives from across the state,” says Troy.
So Troy got permission from Legislative leaders to try a pilot project in 2018. She partnered with universities and community colleges which already have the video equipment in Moscow, Idaho Falls, Carmen, Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls and Pocatello. Julie VanOrden, chair of the Education Committee, will open up some bills to anyone who wants to give remote testimony. It will be interactive, with both sides able to ask and answer questions.
Troy says lawmakers hear a lot from lobbyists in the statehouse, but she wants to hear from the people.
“I’m just very concerned that we continue to hear from Idahoans, regardless of what their zip code is,” Troy says.
Troy thinks once other lawmakers see how it works, they will be clamoring to have the technology in their committees.
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