BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY, THE HUB
The 2021 legislative session is about to be very different from sessions in the past. Here are a few of the major changes we’re anticipating:
The House of Delegates has passed a rule change regarding public hearings. Prior to this year, the House was obligated to conduct public hearings if certain criteria were met. Now, the House can choose whether or not to conduct public hearings. This rule change didn’t come with an end date, so while it is certainly safer to limit gathering large groups of citizens together this year, it’s unclear whether public hearings will be allowed later when the pandemic is no longer a concern. Given that public hearings were one of the few avenues for a large number of citizens to provide input on how new policies would impact them, I am keeping a close eye on this pivot in the process.
This session, the results of the 2020 elections are shaping our legislature, with just under a third of our legislators serving their very first term in office. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for citizen lobbyists, who must work harder to build relationships with new legislators and educate them on issues that they may not have much experience with. On the upside, citizen lobbyists may find new champions under the dome.
Want to get more involved as a citizen lobbyist? Check out our West Virginia Citizen Lobbyist Handbook, a helpful series that will guide you through the legislative process at the Capitol. Get yours here »
Due to safety restrictions associated with COVID-19, members of the public will not be allowed in the Capitol without an appointment. This means that hallway conversations, lobby days, and other mechanisms for citizens to provide input on proposed policy changes will be eliminated. Savvy citizen lobbyists are using their networks to connect virtually with legislators, setting up standing meetings with their legislative champions, or bundling up to wait outside the Capitol building to catch legislators as they enter and exit. It’s not ideal, but there is comfort in knowing that things won’t be this way forever.
In addition to these changes, citizens and legislators alike can expect that session may be postponed if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs. It is likely that the committee review process will be significantly trimmed down in order to get as much through the process as possible before an outbreak is likely to occur.