Transparency check-in: streaming at the Statehouse (2023)

Transparency check-in: streaming at the Statehouse (2023)

With the 2023 regular legislative session concluded, now is a great time to follow up on transparency efforts made by the General Assembly to livestream their committee meetings, an initiative we began last summer.

Committees play a critical role in the legislative process and are responsible for reviewing and approving bills before they reach the House and Senate floor. Because committees specialize in certain areas, such as education, finance, transportation or healthcare, the full bodies often defer to their expertise and will adopt proposed committee amendments with limited pushback. Livestreaming these meetings is therefore essential for maintaining full transparency at the Statehouse.


2023’s most transparent committees 

Using data provided by legislative staff, we calculated how often each committee, including its subcommittees, streamed during the first year of the 2023-24 regular legislative session, which ran January 10 through May 11.

The following committees had the highest streaming percentage rates. (Note: committees that don’t primarily deal with bills, such as the House and Senate Legislative Oversight Committees, were excluded from this ranking.)


Committee  Chair (during 125th session) Percentage of meetings streamed
House Education and Public Works Rep. Shannon Erickson 100%
House Judiciary Rep. Weston Newton 100%
Senate Judiciary Sen. Luke Rankin 97.5%
House Ways and Means Rep. Bruce Bannister 87.1%
House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Rep. Sylleste Davis 83.3%


These committees should be applauded for their efforts on transparency. Two ended the session with perfect streaming records, while three streamed nearly all or most of their meetings. In particular, the House Ways and Means Committee stands out because it held the most meetings of any committee, largely because of its work on the budget, and still earned a spot in the top five.

However, we found less-than-desirable streaming rates among the middle- and lower-ranked committees, with several showing worse results than when measured last year. The House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, which streamed all of its meetings during the 2021-22 session, broadcast less than half of its meetings this year. The Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, which streamed more than three quarters of its meetings during the 2021-22 session, streamed just 25% of them this year.

Most disappointing are the committees that did not stream a single meeting during the regular session, including the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, and the House Ethics Committee.

As noted above, this report only measures the first year of a two-year session, giving low-performing committees a chance to bounce back in 2024 and improve their scores. 

We recognize there are outside factors that can affect streaming consistency, such as whether a meeting room has video equipment or staff availability. While improved planning may address this issue, another short-term option is to stream via a cellphone and save the video for later viewing until future solutions are implemented. 


Why streaming matters

Transparency is key for any healthy government to function. South Carolinians should know how their laws are being made, the purpose they serve, the full scope of their implications, and of course, what legislators are saying along the way. Streaming has become a vital tool for providing this information, allowing citizens to engage in the legislative process regardless of their distance from the Statehouse.

Critically, all meeting livestreams are archived on the Statehouse website and saved for later viewing. Citizens can watch these at any time and know what happened at a committee meeting. When a meeting isn’t livestreamed, a video archive is not created or kept, depriving the citizens of an important public record.

While it is true that state law requires that minutes be kept for all public meetings, this doesn’t necessarily capture things like member remarks or public comments. Meeting minutes also lack the convenience of video since they generally must be requested from staff.  


Our recommendation

While the current model works for some committees, most fail to stream on a consistent basis and provide adequate transparency for South Carolinians. We recommend legislation requiring all committee and subcommittee meetings to be livestreamed and archived, a proposal outlined in our comprehensive transparency report.

Here’s the good news: a bill to do just that was introduced in the House in February, inspired by our research. Not only would it require all committee meetings to be livestreamed – including nomination hearings for judicial candidates (which are not currently streamed) – it would also provide more transparency when it comes to the state budget, state and local records, and public employee salaries. The bill is in House Ways and Means Committee, and we encourage Chairman Bruce Bannister to assign it a hearing when lawmakers return in January.  

To achieve this, all meeting rooms will need proper livestreaming equipment. If this can’t be paid for with the current budget, which includes an extra $3.5 million each for the House and Senate in recurring funds, it must be part of next year's budget. The House should also take up this bill requiring school boards to livestream their meetings, which passed the Senate in February. Now in the House Education and Public Works Committee, we encourage Chairwoman Shannon Erickson to schedule the bill for a hearing promptly next year.