Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, wants citizens to be able to submit video testimony.

Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, wants citizens to be able to submit video testimony.

In the age of selfie sticks and YouTube vlogs, state Sen. Cyrus Habib wants to turn the now-ubiquitous selfie into something that can be legislatively useful.

The Democrat from Kirkland, along with Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, are calling for the state to allow citizens to use video equipment to record their testimony on bills and send the files to legislators on a secure server.

“Each and every person who has a smartphone or a laptop has access to a camera. Or who can get to a library could have access to a video camera and record, or write, testimony,” Habib told fellow lawmakers.

What’s being called the “Legislative YouTube bill” passed off the floor of the Senate unanimously last week, and now is headed to the House for consideration.

“Every Washingtonian should be able to have their voice heard in our legislative process, no matter where they live, no matter if they have a disability, no matter if their work schedule allows it,” Habib said when he first introduced the bill.

This could open testimony to many people who can’t make the drive to Olympia because of distance or a scheduling conflict. And sometimes those who do make it to Olympia don’t get a chance to speak because public hearings time limit.

“People will spend up to eight hours to speak for three minutes, and sometimes those three minutes have been in jeopardy,” Habib said.

Habib imagines the scenario like this: The Legislature would set parameters on video length and video deadline, and would work with a nonprofit to set up the video server. (Disclosure: this writer is a reporter for TVW, a nonprofit network that provides video coverage of Legislature, which would be considered to provide the service.) A legislator could review the video in their office, or a chairperson could choose to play a video during a hearing.

Habib told The Stranger that his bill was inspired by a segment on net neutrality on comedian John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight, in which Oliver rallied internet trolls to submit comments to the FCC on net neutrality.

Despite the bill’s comedic inspiration, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who supports the bill, says it is one attempt to make state politics more civil. Wyman has been working with students at Washington State University to find ways to increase civic engagement. “One of the findings of that study is we need to make it easier for people to engage in testimony to the legislature,” she told lawmakers.

The bill is “exploring ways we might be able to use our existing technology in engaging our citizenry in a little better manner,” Wyman added.

The legislature has already made some moves to open testimony to the public. Citizens already may submit written comments on a bill online via the Legislature’s website. This year, the state is testing remote live testimony via video links at locations in Eastern and Central Washington.

While, for the most part, the remote video testimony has gone well, there has been at least one technological hiccup that forced lawmakers to take testimony with an older technology — a phone.