Illinois senate sessions move to cyberspace

By Gus Bode

Sessions will be available on general assembly’s site in nov.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Illinois Senate will be at your fingertips before the fall session begins in November.

The broadcasted meetings, covered live by three C-SPAN channels, will cost $220,000 to bring the state’s senators onto computer screens and into viewers’ homes.

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Although live sessions via the web have been in talks for the last few years, no changes were made until last year when an audio version was added to the state legislature’s Web site. The Illinois House began broadcasting an Internet version of its sessions in 2000.

Money was set aside for the proposal when the budget was approved this summer, but a separate vote for installing the cameras was not taken.

Calling himself a traditionalist, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, said he wouldn’t have voted in favor of putting Senate sessions online. Nonetheless, the Okawville Republican said he doesn’t anticipate changes in the way he and his colleagues conduct themselves on the floor.

“The records are already available if you want them,” he said. “What this does is make it easier to get them. By making it more convenient, hopefully, we’ll reach out to more people – and possibly a group of people we weren’t able to reach before.”

High school teachers should take advantage of this resource, Luechtefeld said, so teenagers will be able to learn early on how state government is run.

With a looming budget deficit and job cuts, a new service that has an uncertain future with the public has met some criticism.

The Department of Natural Resources had a handful of lay offs in the last few weeks, said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

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“Over the past three to four years, state headcount is down more than 20 percent in every department, so understaffing is definitely in issue and something we’re continuing to watch,” he said.

On the other hand, Sen. Gary Forby said the number of people who are for the technological advances would far outweigh those who are against it.

“People can see first-hand what we have to go through to get a bill passed,” the Benton Democrat said. “They’ll be able to see how their senators voted, and they’ll be able to see if their senator didn’t vote. It’ll be interesting for them to see how we work up in Springfield.”

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