We’re in that common time now, the week after the legislative session, when folks from across the state often come together to raise a chorus of frustration towards our lawmakers.
Many are frustrated at the failure of the Legislature to pass various pieces of legislation that were advocated for during the past 60 days.
And we understand that frustration.
In the next few weeks much time will get spent discussing why certain bills died, how there isn’t enough time to get everything we want done, and how the state legislative process can be duplicative and wasteful.
And we understand those sentiments – and that frustration with the slowness of our legislative process.
But while a number of good bills died this year, there is an importance to the slowness of the process of lawmaking that is worth taking a moment to remember.
It is hard to get legislation passed because it should be hard to get legislation passed.
As WV MetroNews’ Hoppy Kercheval noted in his last commentary before the end of the 2016 Session, the West Virginia Legislature is a citizen legislature made up of imperfect people (as we all are) who are doing their best to make good decisions in an imperfect system.
Our citizen legislature is a somewhat random cross-section of West Virginians. These elected officials are chosen, by us, to go to Charleston each year and make extremely impactful decisions about what is legal, and what is not, what gets funding and what does not.
Certainly these are people who have the flexibility in their lives and work to spend two full months at the State Capitol each year, not to mention all the time they have to spend campaigning to get and keep their seats.
They have expertise in the things they have done in their lives, the communities they know, the work they do, and the issues that impact them and their community directly. But there are many areas and issues about which most legislators do not have expertise. And yet they still must make decisions about them – with little staff support, resources or time.
And until we are willing to commit the resources to better support our lawmaking body, through technology, staff, and paying them to commit significantly more time to do the work, we can expect the same lackluster results from our citizen legislature each year.
We seek a democracy where we are represented by our peers but not dictated by them. We try to maintain a system of governance where we give our neighbors authority to make decisions about our lives, while maintaining checks so that they cannot use that authority to oppress us.
When you take a moment to really think about it, it is an awe-inspiring process that we seek to maintain.
And so, of course, it is imperfect.
But the imperfection is not in that it is slow, or that it often takes a long time for bills to pass. It should be slow. It should take a while for bills to pass.
We should look with skepticism and concern upon any bill that zooms through our citizen legislative process, flying over all of our established cautionary roadblocks.
Those roadblocks are included in the process to ensure that our democracy is not used as a shroud for authoritarianism to take over and govern our lives. In particular, the committee process should serve as a sieve to filter out the bills that need more time, more research, more work and more questions answered before they should become law.
Does it always work? Certainly not. Does it often work? After each session that’s not even entirely clear.
But what is clear is that the process is not perfect now – and it was not perfect five years ago.
When looking at the failures of the session, let’s not take the easy road and blame it on politics.
There is much to fix within the process of our state democracy as a whole. We’ve got work to do to make a better system for ourselves – no matter which party is in power. Are you up to it?