Recordings of committee hearings and debates in the Nebraska Legislature would be barred from public-records requests under a bill introduced on behalf of the legislative clerk's office.
Testifying before the Legislature's Executive Board on Wednesday, Clerk Patrick O'Donnell said the bill introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist would establish written transcripts of proceedings as the official record of the Legislature.
LB1018 would prevent video or audio of committee hearings or debate by the full body from being used in campaign ads or for commercial purposes.
O'Donnell said the provision protects the Legislature's broadcast partner — Nebraska Educational Television — from rules governing its nonprofit status and helps preserve the integrity of the body.
Exempting requests of a decade worth of video and audio recordings also curbs costs tied to digital storage of those files, as well as the time needed for staff to retrieve and provide them to senators or the public who may request them, he added.
The bill would not prevent citizens from making their own recordings, only from accessing recordings made by the Legislature or Nebraska Educational Television, O’Donnell said.
Media, civil rights and government transparency groups lined up in opposition to LB1018, however, saying the bill could violate the First Amendment rights of Nebraskans and close access to state government.
Shawn Renner, a Lincoln attorney representing the state’s print and broadcast outlets through Media of Nebraska, said a similar law signed into law in California was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal court.
Media of Nebraska also opposed a provision of the bill adding video and audio recordings of legislative proceedings to the list of 20 exemptions already outlined in Nebraska's public-records statutes.
While the exemptions start with protections to sensitive information of private citizens, LB1018 would add a broad exemption to “an entire branch of government,” Spike Eickholt of the ACLU of Nebraska told the board.
“We’re just not comfortable with that,” he said.
Nebraskans Against Gun Violence President Amanda Gailey told the board LB1018 could suppress citizen engagement and dissent across the state.
Activists who cannot make it to the Capitol from some areas of the state rely on video or audio recordings of the proceedings, she said.
“That allows those people to feel that they are engaged and pulled into a process that otherwise they would feel fairly disenfranchised from living far away or with work or child commitments,” Gailey said.
Jack Gould of Common Cause said having access to video and audio recordings also allows transparency groups to fight back against misleading advertisements that have selectively edited recordings.
Geist, who introduced the measure on O'Donnell's behalf, opened discussion seemingly at odds with the bill's language.
She told the Executive Board her goal is to eventually provide access to audio and video recordings for senators and later the public — a critical resource for lawmakers and a service for citizens to better understand state government.