National and in-state interest in Louisiana has reached new heights as the state has been forced to deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, perhaps its greatest crisis since the British engaged Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. That’s why its normally quiet online broadcasts from the state legislature have suddenly seen a surge in new viewer interest.

The Louisiana Legislature is broadcasting committee and floor meetings directly to its citizens and other interested parties via its powerful web site. Each day, the site announces which meetings are being broadcasted live. Visitors can also replay broadcasts of archived House committee meetings.

A decade ago, a person concerned about how the state would manage its budget or address a financing plan to avert a municipal bond default on local debt would only imagine being able to “sit in” on a live hearing taking place on the floor of the Louisiana Legislature.

But that possibility is today’s reality. Harnessing the potential of the Internet, the Louisiana Legislature allows anyone with an interest in state government – geographic boundaries notwithstanding – to see and hear live broadcasts of legislative hearings.

One Chicago area municipal bond specialist says that when he recently entered the Louisiana Legislature web site, he was immediately drawn to the live broadcast of a Commission hearing on how to deal with financing issues related to state and local municipal bonds in trouble.

“Given the importance of their actions in the aftermath of Katrina, these deliberations have far reaching implications beyond the state’s borders,” he said.

But long before Hurricane Katrina caused devastating damage in New Orleans and in other parishes throughout the state, the Louisiana Legislature put the pieces in place for a first-rate web site. Establishing a web presence in late 1994, it was one of the first legislative web sites with a web site, according to Brian Broussard, webmaster for the Louisiana Legislature.

Broussard says that the Legislature web site underwent a major overhaul in 2000, when it went from a fairly static source of information to the almost completely dynamic resource that it is today. He reports that the interactive “Find Your Legislator” and “Louisiana Laws” pages are among the site’s most popular features, not its counting bill search tool. During election years, the site provides a variety of helpful materials for voters, from sample ballots to details on proposed constitutional amendments.

While the Legislature saw an increase in hits to the web site about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, indicating a higher-than-normal level of activity than during an average interim period when the legislature is not in session. While lobbyists, teachers, librarians, students, lawyers and people from other government agencies regularly visit the web site, there has been a recent an increase in traffic from the general public as well.

Nine of the eleven committee rooms in the House and Senate combined are broadcast-capable. A House rule says that meetings must be given seven days’ notice, while the Senate does not have a comparable rule.

Visitors interested in Louisiana’s recovery process will do well to check this site regularly for scheduled broadcasts to see if they are relevant to them.