No More Excuses: Post the Unicameral’s Meeting Videos Online

No More Excuses: Post the Unicameral’s Meeting Videos Online

In 2022, the State of Nebraska made it easier for taxpayers to get involved in the process of how local property tax increases are decided, with the adoption of Truth in Taxation. For the first time ever, taxpayers had complete information about which tax entities were seeking major tax hikes, and where they could go to voice their concerns.

The law worked. In communities throughout the state, turnout by members of the public at Truth in Taxation hearings was hundreds of times greater than a typical local government meeting. 

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In my area in Douglas County, taxpayers who received Truth in Taxation notices supplied about three hours of testimony on their economic concerns with property tax increases.

And one of the great things about my home county, and several others, is that our local government provided a video livestream of the Truth in Taxation hearing, as well as a recording that was made available following the meeting on the county’s YouTube channel. 

I’m including a link to the recording on this post so you can check it out and learn more about what a Truth in Taxation hearing is like.

State lawmakers should definitely take a small bow for making this level of public engagement possible and turning up the heat on local governments that are raising property taxes. 

But state officials should be held accountable, too. Nebraska is still one of the very last states in the country that doesn’t post its own meeting videos online for the public to watch later. 

This seems like a very mixed message. If my county government can keep all of its meeting videos online for me to watch later, why doesn’t my state government? And if our state government wants us better informed about what local governments are doing, why wouldn’t the same be true for the state itself?

So, in light of what Nebraska has learned through the Truth in Taxation process, the Unicameral now has to step up its own game when it comes to transparency. 

We know now that if Nebraskans are equipped with good information about government policy decisions, they will take an interest and get involved. So, there’s no time like the present for state senators to start posting video recordings of their legislative meetings, which includes their public hearings and floor debates. 

Just like property tax hearings were happening in Nebraska before Truth in Taxation, these state legislative meetings are being live streamed and recorded by Nebraska Public Media–they’re just not being shared with the public at large once the livestream ends.

In 2022, a legislative committee gave its approval to a bill to put all legislative videos online, but somehow, lawmakers didn’t find time to actually vote on the bill, despite it being priority legislation for the year.

Honestly, though, it shouldn’t take a law to make this happen. It’s a failure of leadership, on numerous levels, that no one in the state government has taken the initiative to post the Legislature’s meeting videos where people can actually watch them.

But since it seems that it will take a law to get the job done, here are three reasons there is no excuse for senators to wait yet another year to get a state video archive rolling. 

  1. State senators are setting a bad example and tarnishing the Unicameral’s reputation.
  2. Most normal people can’t watch a legislative livestream in the middle of the workday.
  3. Taxpayers have a right to access video recordings they’re already paying to create.

Let’s have it out with our first point.

#1. State senators are setting a bad example and tarnishing the Unicameral’s reputation.

There are some Nebraskans who think the Unicameral is an anachronism, or just an accident of history. After all, no other state has taken the plunge and established a one-house Legislature like Nebraska.

I’m not a Unicameral-hater, myself. But I think sometimes in Nebraska, defenses of the Unicameral rest too much on the body being unique, rather than the Legislature actually offering a better system of government. 

The historical promise of a one-house system is that it would be more efficient, easier to keep track of policy decisions, and that there wouldn’t be backroom dealing between two different houses.

Not putting the Unicameral’s meeting videos online makes the legislative process less efficient, harder to keep track of, and leads the public to assume they’re being cut out of how decisions are being made.

Frankly, unless you have the time to watch the Legislature live, it would be difficult to even know what decisions senators are making, or why. 

This is a bad look for lawmakers in Lincoln, not only because they represent an institution that is respected by their constituents, but one that other leaders in the state look to as an example for how government should be run.

In Omaha, where I live, my City Council meetings are not only live streamed and available online for later viewing, but I can use video conferencing software like Zoom to call into the meeting and provide public comment.

As people like me get older, that could really come in handy, especially if it’s a snowy day where the city forgets to plow my streets. 

But can you imagine how sketchy it would sound if a new city administration came in and started tearing out all those amazing technology tools that allow Omahans to watch and participate in local government?

If, suddenly, nobody could pull up the meeting videos or Zoom in, you’d have to assume officials didn’t want you to see something, or didn’t want to deal with your reaction to what you might see.

So, what can be said about a government that never made the effort to prioritize these options in the first place? At the worst, people will assume it’s because the body wants to hide its activities. And at best, the Unicameral is signaling that it’s behind the times and out of touch with how people get their information today. 

So, if state leaders want the Unicameral to be regarded as a special institution, and a shining example of what the state of Nebraska can achieve, its policies have to meet certain standards. 

There’s really no excuse in the 21st century for a government body of any significance not to post its meeting videos online, and the Unicameral should be leading the way in modeling how officials throughout the state can step up their engagement with the public.

And, by definition, you can’t have public engagement without the public.

#2. Most normal people can’t watch a legislative livestream in the middle of the workday.

No matter what criticisms I might make of a state senator’s policy decisions, I will never say their job is easy. Even though the Legislature only meets 60 or 90 days out of the year, there’s much more to the job than making legislation and voting. 

Although few people will feel bad for them, state senators are some of the most overworked and underpaid people in Nebraska. 

That said, most of the actual legislative work inside the State Capitol is often very 9-5. It’s not uncommon for senators to adjourn a legislative day on Friday at lunchtime so they can go home to their districts for the weekend, or to stop debating bills around 5pm, or even earlier.

Earlier in the session, when committees hold public hearings for proposed legislation, hearings can sometimes go long into the evenings. But most of them start on a weekday at about 1pm, and might be sparsely attended if the legislation is not high-profile.

Compare this with Nebraska’s Truth in Taxation law, which requires that local governments meet after 6 p.m., which is a more reasonable time for most taxpayers to attend.

Now, it may be practical to have the legislative process taking place in the course of a normal business day. But that makes it all the more important to have resources in place so that working people, and all Nebraskans, can find out what the Legislature is doing at a later time.

Look, if you’re watching a video podcast called Nebraskanomics, you are probably not the most normal individual you know. You might actually be the kind of person who’d make the time to livestream a hearing or floor debate of the Nebraska Legislature. I am, too, because it’s part of my job to watch what goes on in Lincoln.

But people with other kinds of jobs and lives also have the right to know what’s being discussed on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature or in committee in a timely manner.

And if word gets out from Lincoln about legislation, they’re probably going to find out through a secondary source, either on social media, the news, or from a friend telling them.

With no video archive of state legislative proceedings, there’s not very many opportunities for Nebraskans to get complete information about bills as they’re being discussed. And even media outlets in Nebraska, who have seen a large reduction in their workforce in recent years, have fewer ways to report on what’s happening in the Unicameral. 

Many Nebraskans get their state and local news from sources that don’t have the budget to embed staff at the State Capitol every day. If the state simply turns over factual records about what happened in Lincoln on a given day (which is what these videos are) Nebraska journalists will find the storylines that matter to their communities and take care of the rest.

But right now, once the state’s video livestream cuts off at noon, 5pm, or whenever the Legislature concludes, neither Joe and Jane Taxpayer nor our state’s media watchdogs have any easily-shareable record they can use to inform others about what’s actually going on in the State Capitol.

And Nebraska’s lack of a state legislative video archive might be understandable if the state was starting from scratch and didn’t have any technical expertise or resources. 

But it’s actually kind of maddening because both the Legislature and Nebraska Public Media have the technology and resources and are not sharing this content, solely because their leadership doesn’t want to.

Which brings us to our final reason the Unicameral has to stop dawdling and put its meeting videos online as soon as it can.

#3. Taxpayers have a right to access video recordings they’re already paying to create.

This brings us back to something I’ve discussed on Nebraskanomics before, related to Truth in Taxation. Nebraskans always had the right to organize together to do something about their local property taxes. But governments weren’t being forthcoming with information taxpayers could use to understand how to do that.

For years, policymakers claimed Nebraskans didn’t really care about showing up to local meetings to address property taxes. But when Truth in Taxation postcards arrived with more detailed information about joint public hearings where taxpayers could address their concerns, those local hearings saw a dramatic increase in turnout. 

Removing barriers to information made it possible for more Nebraskans to truly exercise their rights.

Just the same, you already have the right, on paper, to access video recordings of Unicameral hearings and floor debate.

The recordings are held at the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature, and you can make a request to receive the files. The Clerk’s Office will charge you a fee for downloading the requested files onto a new, computer-virus-free thumb drive they will gladly sell you as part of your fee, and abracadabra, you’ll know what senators said in the public hearing or floor debate you care about. 

So, this is good enough for government work, because technically, you have “the right” to access these records, and they won’t be withheld by the state if you follow their rules for getting the content. 

But in the time it might take to fulfill this request for one or two people, the same data could be made openly available for absolutely every person in the world with an internet connection.

And what an absolute waste that it’s not being made freely available. The Legislature’s livestreams are great, but it’s kind of nuts that taxpayers have been asked to wire the entire State Capitol with video cameras and microphones, and develop the technology for numerous simultaneous broadcasts to be conducted on-site, just for the pleasure of people working in the building, or who are lucky enough to watch live in the middle of a workday.

It’s not called Nebraska Government Media. It’s Nebraska Public Media, and they should be serving the public. 

The Legislature’s hearings and floor debate are public records that we all pay to produce, and there is no shortage of technology allowing literally anybody with a video file to host that content online. With enough time and planning, the state could make a sophisticated web presence for its videos that is tied into the Nebraska Legislature website or Nebraska Public Media. 

But while we’re waiting, what’s the harm in just posting the videos to YouTube? 

I don’t buy any of the arguments for why this can’t be done expeditiously, because I can find more information on YouTube about the unicameral legislature operating in the U.S. territory of Guam, than I can find about our own Unicameral in Nebraska. 

To put things in perspective, Guam is a tiny island territory with a population smaller than Sarpy County, on the other side of the planet. And yet somehow, they found the time, talent, and resources to keep people like me informed about their hearings and debates.

We should also dispense with the penny-wise and pound-foolish attitude—which we also saw during Truth in Taxation—that added government transparency is too costly or wasteful. 

More wasteful than spending money on all this technology and not making the product available to the public? More wasteful than not letting the public scrutinize the debate over billions of taxpayer dollars being spent every year? Gimme a break. 

Sure, it is a little more work to have the Legislature’s videos put online, but there are lots of things we pay for regularly that add some work for the government, but also make government work better and be more respectful of our rights.

We pay for elections on a regular schedule so nobody can stay in office forever, and sometimes special elections, too. We assure that legal counsel is available for people accused of crimes who can’t pay for their own. And we provide police protection at all hours of the day and night for people who gather in public to speak on issues that matter to them, even if we don’t agree with what they’re saying.

Nobody should lose any sleep over spending a few pennies on putting the Legislature’s videos online. Along with all of our other fundamental freedoms, government transparency and freedom of information is the kind of investment that makes the State of Nebraska a better example of a democracy, a freer society, and a less wasteful government. 

So, there are at least billions of reasons the Nebraska Legislature’s videos should be put online right away, but three we discussed today include that without a video archive:

  1. State senators are setting a bad example and tarnishing the Unicameral’s reputation.
  2. Most normal people can’t watch a legislative livestream in the middle of the workday.
  3. Taxpayers have a right to access video recordings they’re already paying to create.

But just like we learned with Truth in Taxation, these arguments only have teeth if you help give them impact with your involvement. That’s why I’d like to encourage you to sign our petition to put the Unicameral’s meeting videos online at

Get connected with us by signing the petition and we’ll keep you informed about how you can help demand the Unicameral put all of its content online in the year ahead, and for years to come. 

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