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Nonpartisan House office honored for informing Minnesotans

The nonpartisan House Public Information Services Department has been honored for its work, as has Steve Senyk, director of Senate Media Services. Above, a TV control room in the State Office Building. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Legislature has had to alter its operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while in-person access has become limited at best, Minnesotans have more ways than ever to follow what their government is doing in St. Paul.

As part of those efforts, the entire nonpartisan House Public Information Services Department has been honored for its work, as has Steve Senyk, director of Senate Media Services.

“It’s with a great amount of admiration and appreciation for your work leading the Minnesota House Public Information Services that the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information would like to present you with its 2021 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. For your incredible efforts in making the work of the Minnesota legislature so readily and reliably available on a timely basis in a variety of formats over the years and now amidst the pandemic, you and Mr. Steve Senyk will receive the 2021 Finnegan FOI Award,” states the award letter to Barry LaGrave, director of House Public Information Services.

“House Public Information Services’ efforts are not possible without the continuing support from House leadership and staff. All of our work is the result of a truly collaborative effort of the entire House. The House is proud to be recognized for its ongoing efforts to provide openness and transparency to its activities,” LaGrave said.

“The past year has required quick thinking, sudden adaptations, creativity, attention to detail, teamwork, and expanded infrastructure, all of which Barry and Steve brought to bear in their work,” according to the nomination put forth by three members of the Legislative Reference Library: Director Elizabeth Lincoln; Information Systems Manager Mike Schatz and Information Analyst Molly Riley.

“Both offices produce hundreds of hours of unedited, gavel-to-gavel coverage of floor sessions, committee hearings, issue-oriented press conferences, member interviews, and other special events. … In 2020 the House and Senate adopted rules to allow for remote hearings. Barry and Steve, as the heads of their offices, and in collaboration with their Information Technology Departments, made it possible to record and process these unique meetings. This involved advocating for and adding resources, including hardware, staff, and additional contracted resources.”

House Public Information Services can now live stream five committee, subcommittee or division hearings at one time. Prior to 2021, the maximum was two. Many hearings are broadcast on public television stations throughout the state. All audio and video recordings are archived.

“Most committee meetings are streamed and recorded in both audio and video, and on any given day the House is broadcasting and recording up to 18 meetings. In a year of incredible change, Barry and Steve worked creatively and diligently as they adapted their offices and services in response to the needs of this time,” the nomination states.

In addition to live coverage, the departments were recognized for additional content they provide.

“Senate media produces Capitol Report video segments, while House Public Information produces Session Daily, an online news service with articles about each day’s legislative hearings and other activities. Newspapers from all over the state are free to use any Session Daily article which greatly expands legislative coverage for many newspapers with small staffs,” per the nomination.

Also to be recognized March 15 via Zoom is Mapping Prejudice’s Kirsten Delegard and Mark Chapin.

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