Bill would allow Legislature staff to testify via video link

DENVER - Colorado became a state in 1876, the same year the telephone was invented.

But 138 years later, the only way citizens can testify to their Legislature is in person, at the state Capitol in Denver.

That could change as soon as next year, thanks to video conferencing technology that's a bit more advanced than Alexander Graham Bell's invention.

Rural Coloradans often complain about the difficulty of getting to Denver during the January-May legislative session.

"We meet during the winter, and sometimes those mountain passes can be difficult to get over," said Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who is sponsoring a bill to allow the Legislature's staff to start working on video testimony.

People in Southwest Colorado would stand to benefit the most. From Dove Creek to the state Capitol, it's roughly 400 miles - the longest drive from any county seat in the state.

Ferrandino's bill started moving Monday when it passed the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee 11-0. Grand Junction Republican Ray Scott is also a sponsor.

But people still won't be able to Skype their grievances to legislators from the kitchen table without changing out of their pajamas. The Legislature is looking at five or more sites around the state where people could testify via video link. Universities and community colleges would make ideal locations, said Mike Mauer, director of the Legislative Council staff.

"I think we would have pretty good coverage throughout the state," Mauer said.

Only Alaska and Hawaii allow regular remote testimony to their legislatures, he said. Alaska's state capital, Juneau, is accessible only by plane or boat. And Carson City, Nev., is a day's drive from the state's major city, Las Vegas.

Legislators expect the spend about $150,000 this year to be able to receive remote testimony. That would pay for links between five sites around the state and at least two committee rooms at the Capitol. Committee rooms currently do not have video monitors.

Ferrandino said it's time to make the switch.

"Legislators are slow to change and very beholden to tradition," he said.