BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
This week, as teachers and public school employees have headed to the Capitol, ultimately resulting in SB 451 being postponed indefinitely, I’ve been thinking about the collective discussion that the legislative process represents.
In a democracy, we elect our legislators to draft and review our laws, but on a larger scale, we also ask them to participate with us in a collective discussion. The topic of the discussion is determined by the content of the bills that are proposed and passed.
As they debate the content of bills, they are also debating answers to big questions like: what kind of vision do we have for West Virginia? Do we think that private businesses or government agencies can best handle the work we need to do? How should we allocate our limited resources?
It makes sense that both legislators and citizens feel like there is a lot at stake – because there is.
As we participate in this collective discussion, we utilize avenues that are already available in the Legislative process, like public hearings, and we create new avenues for engagement where they may not already exist, sometimes through public demonstration.
We also develop a collective idea of what all this work adds up to, through the conversations that we have in the news, on social media, and in person with legislators and with each other.
Over the past few weeks, this conversation has been a challenging one. It has presented citizens with tough choices about how they think is best to engage with the legislative process.
While these choices may be tough and there will always be disagreement on the outcome, I’m heartened by the integrity with which they’ve been made.
By keeping themselves fully informed about each iteration of SB 451, teachers and Public School Employees ensured that they were able to bring accurate knowledge to the conversation. By choosing to strike after the bill had been fully reviewed by the House, they made sure that there had been ample opportunity for legislators to amended the bill to reflect their interests.
Citizen voices are powerful in this collective discussion, and they are the most effective when we take the time to understand the content of the conversation and the system through which that conversation is taking place.