HARTFORD, CT — After eliminating funding for the transcription of public hearings in May, legislative leaders have reversed course and restored the money to continue the practice.
Prior to the election in November the two parties were deadlocked on what should be cut from the legislative budget in order to save an estimated $100,000 that’s typically spent on public hearing transcripts.
None of the legislative leaders would comment directly on the decision, but staff said that the service would continue in 2019.
Jim Tamburro, executive director of the Office of Policy and Management, said the transcription service cost in 2018 was $72,000 compared to the $177,000 spent in 2017 due to the length of the session.
Tamburro said the costs would be absorbed within the Legislative Management budget, but it will complicate things.
“This will have a negative impact on discretionary expenditures and limit our ability to lapse funds mandated by the bipartisan budget agreement,” Tamburro said.
The restoration was an early Christmas gift for open government advocates who urged lawmakers not the eliminate the service.
“Public hearings are a vital part of the legislative process, and having transcripts both improves transparency and preserves records,” Michael Savino, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said. “We’re glad to see that legislative leaders have also recognized their value by restoring the funds to continue producing these important documents.”
Advocates like Savino have said that the state library identified 750 court decisions that have cited public hearing transcripts.
Before the deal to fully restore them was reached, in lieu of a written transcript, which is searchable, the Office of Legislative Management had planned to offer an audio recording of a hearing upon request.
Kathy Flaherty, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, has said an audio recording alone also may not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some would argue that everyone who testifies is asked to submit written testimony, which is then published online.
But advocates argue that “filed written testimony is not a satisfactory substitute for transcripts. It omits the question-and-answer exchanges that may be critical to legislative history.
Actual witness testimony sometimes varies significantly from written testimony. Committees often ask witnesses not to read their testimony but to tell them what is most important.”
The breadth of the coalition of advocates trying to save them should “demonstrate the value of these records in ensuring both transparency and a full understanding of legislative history, “ Savino has said.