Local lawmaker calls for Del. General Assembly virtual session to be more accessible, easier to navigate
DELAWARE – At this point in the pandemic, many are used to Zoom calls and getting information through the internet. But Representative Bryan Shupe says the General Assembly isn’t really upholding their promise to be as accessible and transparent as possible in their virtual session. “Really it’s a one-sided process. It’s kind of just a camera showing what is being done, decisions already being made,” said Rep. Shupe.
Rep. Shupe is calling on his fellow lawmakers in the General Assembly to help increase accessibility and transparency when it comes to the legislature’s virtual session. “It needs to be more than just watching. It needs to be the opportunity to know what’s going on ahead of time – the opportunity for there to be public information before it happens so you can be engage and you can know what’s going on,” said Rep. Shupe.
Often times, Rep. Shupe says meeting agendas aren’t posted to the internet, the time those meetings take place aren’t updated frequently, and live-streamed sessions are not always easy to find or follow along with. “The press and the public really does not know what’s going on. It’s just kind of a live streaming of the process, but I don’t know what SB33 means or I don’t know what HB55 is,” said Rep. Shupe.
Rep. Shupe says committee meetings are where the public and press really need to be able to get involved. “The committee hearings are where the public is actually invited to give opposition, to give support of any bill. Why shouldn’t they be able to go back and get both sides of the issue?” said Rep. Shupe.
Executive Director of the ACLU of Delaware Mike Brickner says making sure that everyone can have equal access to the legislature’s work is the only real way that the government can effectively serve its constituents. “We’re relying on our elected officials even more than we used to be able to help guide us through this extremely challenging time,” said Brickner.
Brickner adds that the General Assembly could even rework the system to provide other avenues like public access television and radio. “Just as not everybody has access to the internet, not everybody has the ability to drive down to Dover and to watch committee hearings that way,” said Brickner.
Brickner tells 47ABC expanded online accessibility could even open up opportunities for the public to connect with their legislature after the pandemic. “This gives us the opportunity to experiment with maybe some new and different ways of accessibility, and maybe hold onto those things once things start to go back normal, and we can go to Dover in the way that we normally did,” said Brickner.
Looking ahead, Rep. Shupe says some of his ideas about improving accessibility include making short video tutorials on how the navigate this website. He adds that they could also update technology at Legislative Hall, and make new protocols for streaming meetings and sessions. “I think we should go to residents and going to the press and asking them ‘What do you need inside this sort of bill and these sort of rules?’ and then starting to set it up with lawmakers. I think that would be the best action forward,” said Rep. Shupe.
Rep. Shupe recommends that any study on how to improve the system would be due no later than January 2022. That way, he says any costs that go along with it could be included in the fiscal year 2023 budget.