Digital debut: Committee pilots remote testimony

IDAHO FALLS — Six Idahoans made history Monday morning by providing lawmakers with remote testimony on select bills.

Under the Legislature’s remote testimony pilot program, residents who live outside of Boise and the Treasure Valley testified via video conferencing for the first time from three regional remote testimony sites throughout the state.

Citizens showed up at just three of six available locations to testify before the House Education Committee Monday: Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Moscow. Lawmakers and participants praised the program’s convenience for those living outside the Boise area.

“I’ve gone many times to Boise to testify, and it’s a huge burden,” said Dan Roberts of Rexburg, who testified from the University of Idaho extension campus in Idaho Falls. “I think we could see a lot more people participate in the future.”

Remote testifiers focused primarily on House Bill 443, legislation encouraging school districts to offer voluntary, elective firearms safety courses in public schools and charters.

Legislators passed the bill with a voice vote along party lines after some discussion, yet remote testifiers in Idaho Falls didn’t get to see the outcome because screens went dark moments before the decision.

“Everything was really great, but it would’ve been nice to see what happened,” said Tana Dance, of Idaho Falls, who opposed the bill.

Statehouse special projects coordinator Michelle O’brien, who helped oversee the project, said IT staffers intended to let participants view the final vote. However, someone severed the connection assuming all Idaho Falls attendees had left following the testimony portion of the meeting.

“I’m so sad that individual didn’t get to see the end of it,” O’brien said. “It won’t happen again.”

Despite the hiccup, O’brien emphasized that many at the Statehouse were buzzing with excitement about the program’s historic debut.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden said it was a historic moment.

“You’re the first ones. You’re pioneering for us,” VanOrden told testifiers from Boise. “Hopefully there will be more in future years.”

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