ctnewsjunkie file photo
CT-N control room (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — They’re unable to agree on a budget, but Republicans and Democrats agree that the Connecticut Television Network cameras should be pointed at them.

The contract for running CT-N, which provides gavel-to-gavel coverage of the General Assembly, is almost up and staff members for the four legislative caucuses felt the current contractor—the Connecticut Public Affairs Network which has been running the network since 1999—might have strayed from its original mission.

“We wanted to make sure CT-N is returning to its core mission of covering matters of public interest at the state Capitol and doing it in the most cost-efficient way possible,” Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said Wednesday.

The request for proposals released earlier this month reduces the contract from $2.7 million to $2.4 million per year for each year of the five-year contract. It also restructured the contract so that it would require prior written approval for covering or creating any additional programming or coverage of the executive and judicial branches.

The RFP says that when it comes to the judicial branch CT-N, which has stationary cameras at the Supreme Court, “shall only cover cases of high public interest which are preapproved by the CGA.” CGA stands for Connecticut General Assembly. The same pre-approval, according to the RFP, would be required for coverage of executive branch meetings.

But spokesmen for the Republican and Democratic caucuses maintain they don’t want editorial control. They just want fewer attempts at providing programming such as election night and opening day coverage, which generally feature Diane Smith interviewing lawmakers, reporters, and pundits, and more straightforward streaming coverage of their proceedings.

Pat O’Neill, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said the intention is not to diminish coverage, but the legislative branch is the only branch of government funding the network so it should be a first priority.

There have been complaints from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that CT-N has opted to cover events outside of the legislative process that are not in the public interest. 

Dan Klau, president of the Connecticut Council for Freedom of Information, said the legislature as the contracting body has the right to require any coverage priorities in its contract, but “to completely reform a new contract and cut out two other branches of government is a gross overreaction.”

He said there are three branches of government and the Connecticut Public Affairs Network has done a good job of provide “solid neutral coverage of all three for a long time.” He said he still feels that’s consistent with the legislature’s intent with creating the network.

He said more discretion should be left up to the contractor.

“The new RFP is intended to save money while prioritizing coverage of the Connecticut General Assembly.” Senate Republican Chief of Staff Rob Poudrier said.

Larry Perosino, a spokesman for the House Democratic caucus who also participated in helping write the RFP, was told by Legislative Management that he should stop commenting because the RFP is still open and has not yet been awarded.

The Office of Legislative Management, which is overseeing the bidding and would manage the contract, declined comment.

William A. Bevacqua, vice president of administration and communications for the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, also declined comment on the RFP because it is considering bidding on it.

The bidding process closes May 17, but there will be an opportunity for anyone to ask questions about the bid at 1 p.m. today in Room 1B of the Legislative Office Building. All questions will be answered by May 3 and the responses will be posted on the Department of Administrative Services website.

Last year, the legislature failed to move forward with a proposal to get cable subscribers to fully fund the network through a 40 cent increase in their cable bills.

The proposal would have raised enough money to fully support the operations of the network, but it was opposed by cable companies who described the fee as a tax on their customers.

The proposal would have made it possible for the network to stream up to 15 live events at the same time rather than the two currently possible. It would also ensure that every legislative hearing, Supreme Court case, appellate court oral argument and most executive branch meetings would be shown as they take place, according to supporters of the bill.