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For Immediate Release

February 29, 2016

Contact:  William A. Bevacqua

(860) 246-1553, ext. 107

william@ctpublicaffairsnetwork.org

Open Government Groups Rally Behind a State Civic Network in Connecticut

Hartford, CT – Advocates for government transparency are lining up in support of legislation establishing a “state civic network” for Connecticut, similar in structure to the national C‐SPAN model. The independently financed, non-profit network would expand access to the workings of the three branches of state government by building on the present CTN system, which has been funded directly by the General Assembly since 1999.

Under the proposed Senate Bill 104, the new network would dramatically extend televised and online coverage and “on-demand access” to all legislative hearings and debates, as well as public policy conferences, regulatory hearings, executive agency meetings, and state Supreme Court and Appellate judicial proceedings. The result would be searchable, shareable library of state government deliberations, decisions and activities – and the tools to make it understandable and useful – available to every citizen through cable TV, online and mobile devices.

“Access to government information is the key way for the public to know what its government is doing,” according to the Connecticut Commission on Freedom of Information. Calling the legislation “pro‐ transparency and cost‐saving,” Executive Director Colleen Murphy underscored the Commission’s commitment to encouraging citizen engagement. The State Civic Network “will bring the workings of government into people’s homes...in a most productive, timely, and professional manner.”

The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) have endorsed the proposed legislation to expand coverage throughout state government, as have advocacy groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), CT Community Non‐Profit Alliance, the League of Women Voters, the Connecticut Education Association, Common Cause, and the Connecticut Citizens Action Group (CCAG).

SB 104 is being considered by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections, directing that management and operational funding for the CTN network be provided through a process that already exists for local community access stations, regulated by PURA, the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority. PURA has an extensive history of selecting non‐profit managers for government‐use channels that provide local public, educational, and government programs within cable television franchise areas. These channels are likewise supported through programming fees charged by cable companies, rather than by taxpayer funds.

The State’s Office of Consumer Counsel, created in 1975 by the legislature to act as the advocate for consumer interests in all matters and “fight for the most reasonable rates,” endorsed the State Civic Network proposal after “carefully analyzing” a monthly fee of less than $0.50 per subscriber. Remarking on a trend of diminished reporting of state government news, Consumer Counsel Elin Katz said “a thriving democracy requires citizen access to information relating to their government, access that is ideally broad and unfettered.”

“Best of all,” she added, “this proposal will create a permanent and searchable online library of public documents and visual recordings of state government events that would be of great use both to the public and to the elected officials who serve them.”

CFOG, the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government, noted dramatic changes in the way citizens access news, with increased reliance on social media and mobile devices. The proposed State Civic Network, the group said, would present information on multiple platforms and “add context to what is happening, making information easily accessible and useful.” Funded by a subscriber fee similar to how C‐SPAN and community access stations are currently funded, CFOG notes, “the new entity would be monitored and accountable to the public, but independent from government itself.”

As a representative of classroom teachers, Ray Rossomando of the Connecticut Education Association sent the legislative committee considering the State Civic Network a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Whenever the people are well‐informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”

CEA’s support highlighted the difference between the existing CTN service and the proposed Civic Network by citing the limitations of the present system. “Many here are already fully aware of the great coverage CTN provides of the legislative process, but during the legislative session and other times of the year, many other hearings of public import occur across the state,” said Rossomando. “As your committee conducts this hearing today, there is a landmark school funding case being heard in court....a case of broad interest that should be available to policymakers and the public.”

“The public’s expectation of coverage has changed over the past seventeen years,” said Paul Giguere, the founder of the network and CEO of the independent non‐profit Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN). “Technological innovations have changed how and when citizens access information, and a state civic network will use emerging technologies to allow greater public engagement with the development of policies and legislation that affect us all.”

CPAN launched the CTN network for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1999 as a 24‐hour media service providing gavel‐to‐gavel coverage of state government and public policy on both television and internet platforms. In the intervening years, CPAN has extended the scope of its CTN programming, adding coverage of electoral politics, news conferences, and a weekly review program, Capitol Report.

 

Supporters of SB 104

  An Act Establishing A State Civic Network

AARP-Connecticut

Connecticut Council for Freedom of Information

Connecticut Foundation for Open Government

Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities

Common Cause of Connecticut

Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance

Connecticut Council of Small Towns

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill 

Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz

State Broadband Office

Connecticut Education Association

CT Society of Professional Journalists

Connecticut League of Women Voters

Connecticut Association of Boards of Education

Connecticut ACLU

Commuter Action Group

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