HARTFORD — Citing concerns about resources and coverage, legislative staffers helped craft bid parameters that would give the General Assembly more control over the Connecticut Network.
Representatives from the four caucuses — House and Senate Democrats and Republicans — said they want to bring the state-funded public affairs network, commonly called CT-N, back to its core mission of covering the Legislative Branch, especially amid a tight budget.
“The new RFP (request for proposals) is intended to save the state money while prioritizing coverage of the Connecticut General Assembly,” said Senate Republican Office Chief of Staff Rob Poudrier, who represented the caucus as part of the four-person committee that helped create the request.
The Office of Legislative Management, which administers the RFP process and will enter into an agreement with the vendor, declined to comment because bids can be submitted through May 17.
The Connecticut Public Affairs Network, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 to operate CT-N, currently receives $3.2 million through its contract with the Office of Legislative Management, but a request for proposals, or RFP, states the winning vendor will receive only $2.4 million.
The contract also adds content stipulations that would result in more coverage of legislative proceedings, including coverage of all public hearings and a requirement of legislative approval for original programming.
The language in the RFP also has the potential to greatly reduce coverage of Executive and Judicial branch activities, as well as other events outside state government that CT-N broadcasts.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said the changes could “in fact mean more programming in the public’s interest or for the public benefit,” bringing the network back to its “core mission.”
The General Assembly approved the creation of CT-N, which first aired in 1999, as a way for residents to watch legislative hearings, deliberations, and other proceedings, but those running the network expanded coverage to include regular state Supreme Court Oral arguments, some Executive Branch public hearings or meetings, and even civic events on matters of public interest.
The RFP states a vendor would need approval from the General Assembly to cover either the Executive or Judicial branch, and prohibits coverage “outside the branches of government.” It also bars programming focused on “educational materials” and any original or “produced” programs.
It would also require the vendor to get legislative approval for its weekly schedule — currently, the General Assembly can provide input, but CT-N staff makes the decision — and also requires authorization for any changes. CT-N staff and CPAN board members are state contractors, and ethics rules forbid them from commenting about the RFP.
Dan Klau, president of the Connecticut Council for Freedom of Information, expressed concerns about the restrictions included in the RFP. “More information about government is a good thing,” he said.
He recognized the legislature’s authority over CT-N, but said coverage of “co-equal branches of government” is a “very good, healthy thing” for the state.”
He also questioned why the legislature would seek control, saying the legislature should allow a vendor to expand coverage if it can meet a contract’s requirements and still have to ability within the budget to broadcast other events.
“Why the heck wouldn’t you want to allow them to do that?” he said.
CPAN last year pushed legislation to fund its network through a fee on cable bills, a move proponents said would provide more funding for CT-N and remove its allocation from the budget. Officials said the increased funding would allow it to cover all legislative meetings and expand coverage outside the General Assembly.
The vendor would still need to win OLM’s bidding process. The bill stalled, though, after cable companies said the bill would equate to a tax on those who subscribe for their services, while other residents could watch content online for free.