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Hey, Texplainer: Why are some legislative hearings televised but others aren't? What's the difference between a formal hearing and a public hearing?
For starters, the rules are different in each of the chambers.
According to Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw, the Senate can televise hearings if they are held in one of seven committee rooms equipped with cameras (see the room numbers here). They are not required to televise every hearing, but audio recordings are mandatory since they are the official record. The Senate Chamber is also televised. In addition, all available video is streamed online and archived.
Things work a bit differently in the House. In a nutshell, public hearings are televised based on capacity. The folks at House Video/Audio Services usually try to remind the more than 40 committees and sub-committees that their hearings can be televised. But they can only tape up to eight hearings simultaneously. Like the Senate, though, audio in every House hearing is recorded and archived.
So how do they decide which hearings to televise or webcast? The speaker’s office told us the House AV folks and the committee clerks usually work together to make sure the committees receive an equal share of broadcast time. If a committee clerk knows an upcoming bill will garner lots of public interest, they’ll notify the AV and committee coordinators.
Now, to the second question...
It doesn’t really apply to the Senate. Spaw says there is no distinction in that chamber between formal and public hearings. Public notice of a hearing for any bill is required to be posted for at least 24 hours. All meetings are open. Even if they can’t be televised, audio is always recorded.
In the House, there are actually three types of meetings for which committees and subcommittees can assemble. House rules classify a public hearing as a place “where testimony is to be heard, and where official action may be taken on bills, resolutions or other matters.” A formal meeting is one where officials “may discuss and take official action” on committee matters without testimony. Finally, a work session is where members can discuss bills but can’t take any formal action. The chair decides which kind of meeting he or she will call. If it’s a public hearing, they’re required to give five days notice. The Video/Audio Services Department reports they do not broadcast or webcast formal meetings or work sessions.
Bottom line: Generally, committee meetings are open to the public and recorded — one way or another. Conference committees, though, are a different story for a different day. Stay tuned.
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