Across the state, many organizations, stakeholders and communities are taking the time to look back over the past two months and evaluate the 2016 Legislative Session. We’re sure your inbox is full of “legislative wrap-up” emails. Our inboxes certainly are.
But we’re not going to give you a legislative wrap-up this week. We’re not terribly interested in summarizing what did and didn’t happen. We know you’ve seen that already. And if you’re curious to check on something specific, give us a holler and we’ll look it up for you.
Instead of focusing on that, we’ve been thinking this week about how the process of legislating works in West Virginia – and what we could do to make that process work better.
Sure, we’re pretty nerdy over here and we have been accused before of being too process-focused, in our work in communities and with policy.
But there’s a reason why we think it’s worth thinking through the process in this moment of reflection and evaluation of our annual lawmaking.
Considering what parts of the process work, and what need fixing, takes our contemplation of West Virginia’s lawmaking apparatus a step further than just saying whether this session was good or bad.
Because, while there are strong opinions on both sides, we’re not quite ready to say that this session was a no-good, very-bad, horrible session-to-end-all-sessions.
Yeah, it wasn’t great. Yeah, we didn’t agree with some of the bills that got passed. Yeah, we’re annoyed that many of the bills that we felt like had real potential and momentum this year got shot down (RIP broadband).
And yes, emphatically yes, we were insulted and horrified that so much emphasis was put on trying to pass a bill to permit discrimination.
But we were impressed that a diverse coalition of groups and individuals organized to fight that. We were moved by the unlikely advocates that spoke up against it. We saw some hope in that.
The truth is that our Legislature is made up of a group of people who differ in their beliefs (from each other as well as from us), and who often have priorities that make us scratch our heads in confusion. But we’re not convinced that the answer is only in electing new people.
The failure of our state to thrive isn’t just about who is in power politically. It’s about what systems we maintain that enable our state to grow and thrive. And what systems we continue to maintain that cause our state to wither and sputter.
And one of those systems – a fundamental system that affects each of us individually – is lawmaking.
We think that the process of lawmaking in West Virginia is – if not broken – then at least hobbled.
We know that there are ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our legislative process. Building that better process is going to move our state forward and will improve our state legislating, no matter which party is in power after November’s elections. So that’s the motivation that we’re taking out of the 2016 legislative session.
What areas do we think could be improved in terms of the lawmaking process? Access for public engagement is obviously a big one for us. But what else?
And what are other states doing that we could take as models and start to implement here? Let’s start by looking at states that are the same size as West Virginia and have similar budgets and go from there. Let’s dig our hands into some research and find some solutions.
It’s time to do this. Because we know that just because a system has worked a certain way for a century or more doesn’t mean that it is the best way. Especially if that system keeps producing lackluster results.
We’re excited to move forward in exploration this year. And we’re interested to hear what ideas you’d like to see implemented to help West Virginia build a state-of-the-art lawmaking system.
Let’s dream big. And let’s get going.