Attention, political junkies, policy geeks and pajama-clad denizens of the blogosphere: Georgia Secretary of State might just have become your new best friend.
In a news release issued last week, Kemp announced “the launch of a new website that provides instant access to nine years (1998-2007) of audio and video recordings of the Georgia General Assembly ... which users can ... search by keyword. The results take (users) directly to the session, and the very moment, where the word was used.” Searches can be refined by using a particular legislative day, calendar date or legislative chamber to help pinpoint needed information.
The searchable recordings are available through the Georgia Archives website, www.GeorgiaArchives.org, by clicking the “Search General Assembly Audio/Video” button. Clicking the button links users to the Microsoft Audio Video Indexing Software (MAVIS - How perfect is that?).
According to the news release, Kemp is making the files available “for a test period of at least two months so that his office can gauge the financial feasibility of making the files permanently available to the public.”
The release goes on to provide a tantalizing (for the aforementioned junkies, geeks and bloggers, anyway) hint that if the initial rollout of MAVIS is successful, the program might be expanded.
As currently configured, the news release notes, MAVIS will provide access to “nearly 1,000 hours of Georgia House and Senate meetings from 1998 through 2007. This represents only a fraction of the collection which could ultimately be available.”
Making video and audio recordings of General Assembly sessions available would be a real service to Georgians, and, if the rollout is successful, is something that lawmakers should consider supporting with funding adequate to provide the people of this state with complete access to past legislative sessions.
It’s tempting to joke that MAVIS would be an invaluable tool for making and settling bar bets (in fairly geeky bars, for sure) about, for instance, how many times a given legislator utters the sentence “Tax breaks create jobs.”
On a far more serious note, though, the audio and video recordings could provide citizens, the media, and public-interest groups with some real insight into the history of a particular legislative initiative. Relying on print media accounts of legislative proceedings, or the 30-second “sound bite” coverage often given to those proceedings in the broadcast media, sometimes fails to provide those interested in a particular issue with a nuanced understanding of what legislators are trying to do with a given piece of legislation, or with a broad public policy issue.
And then, of course, there’s the advantage of being able to confront a legislator who might be waffling on a particular issue or position with his or her exact past utterances on that issue or position. Insofar as the MAVIS archive provides members of the media, academics and other interested citizens a sense of the circumstances surrounding a given debate (Were other lawmakers in the chamber paying close attention? Did the legislator speaking on the issue seem to have full command of the facts?), it can be an invaluable tool for tracing the true history of the many issues that are considered across numerous legislative sessions.
In the news release, Kemp called the MAVIS program a “fantastic e-government solution that increases transparency and the ability to research the activities of ... state government.” We couldn’t agree more, and we applaud Kemp for pursuing the program.