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Editorial: TVW gives East Side valuable eye on Olympia

For want of $2.8 million, folks living east of Snoqualmie Pass may lose sight of the Legislature’s deliberations in Olympia.

Already, 20-year-old analog equipment operated by TVW is breaking down, and with it access to some committee meeting rooms where lawmakers do much of their work. Two cameras had to be removed from committee rooms in the last week to replace two on the floor of the House.

Of 43 cameras, only 38 still work.

As more cameras fail and cannot be repaired, TVW President Greg Lane warned legislators, more and more committee rooms will be out of sight of Washington citizens who have no other way of seeing and hearing for themselves what their representatives and senators see and hear from witnesses.

The cameras were rolling two years ago, for example, when Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke testified in favor of a bill that would have imposed a fee of $400 of anyone appealing land-use decisions to the Growth Management Hearings Board. He was there representing the Washington State Association of Counties, but his political foes and strong supporters of growth management jumped on his remarks.

The TVW tapes left Mielke little room when he subsequently tried to amend his comments.

TVW produces 2,000 hours of programming annually, 40 percent of which is coverage of the Legislature. Hearings are available live or taped, online or on cable. They can be searched by bill number or committee name.

There are cameras in the Supreme Court as well.

More and more Washingtonians want video access if they cannot be there in person. Lane said individual video streams have increased tenfold, to 5 million, in just the last five years. Cable increases TVW’s reach.

Although TVW is a private nonprofit, state contracts for the video coverage generate the bulk of its revenue. Most of the rest comes from donors. Private sources will contribute another $2.4 million to the total $5.2 million equipment overhaul, which will include new fiber and production equipment, all digital.

But the picture went snowy Monday, when the House Budget Committee failed to add the state’s share to its supplemental capital budget. The Senate has given its approval, which puts the fate of the appropriation in the hands of the conference committee that will resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Snowed-in passes often prevent Eastern Washington residents from reaching Olympia to testify on bills. Legislators have so far refused to accept testimony from remote sites, as other states do. Letting TVW’s video coverage wink out as cameras fail would be inexcusable.

The service is the eyes and ears for thousands who care about state government. If legislators do not appropriate the $2.8 million, the term “Cascade curtain” will have new meaning.

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