By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – A new law passed by the General Assembly this year will guarantee Indiana residents access to public meetings.
House Bill 1167 mandates all state, county and local agencies livestream their public meetings. Those bodies, which would include city councils, county commissions and school boards, would have to comply by July 2025.
State Rep. Ben Smaltz, the Auburn Republican who sponsored HB 1167, said the pandemic showed the capabilities and the availability of livestreaming technology.
“Many local governing bodies already record their meetings, but this legislation will ensure all agencies allocating tax dollars can be accountable to residents,” he said.
The bill passed with broad bipartisan support in both chambers. However, a fiscal analysis of the bill indicated the bill could have a sizeable cost for the state.
The Indiana Department of Administration estimates it costs about $10,000 per hour to livestream a meeting, factoring in the “equipment and expertise” to manage the broadcast. Closed captioning costs would run about $200 per hour.
Smaltz said agencies could take advantage of free livestreaming platforms available on social media outlets or host the broadcast on their own sites.
“Hoosier taxpayers deserve to have access to public meetings, and government works best when accountability and transparency are at the forefront,” Smaltz said. “This new law will make government meetings more accessible and convenient for constituents and provide time for implementation on the local level.”
The law does provide an exception for agencies unable to broadcast meetings live. If that’s the case, they must record the meeting, post that online for at least 90 days and make the agenda and minutes available.
Agencies would not have any action they take nullified if the livestream becomes disabled during the meeting.
Smaltz’s bill does exclude the state’s public universities from the legislation and allows affected agencies to take down those recordings after 90 days. State agencies could also charge for providing a copy of the broadcast from their information technology network, and that charge could also be applied to copies sent electronically. That money would go either to the state’s General Fund or a dedicated fund.