BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
The air in the Capitol halls is quite different than it was at the beginning of January. The legislative machine is picking up speed and legislators, staff, and lobbyists are hustling to get bills drafted, introduced, advocated for or against, and moved through the committee process.
During this rush, it’s easy for bills to be picked up and make progress or get lost and forgotten about. As citizens, it’s vitally important to be asking why some bills are moved forward while others are abandoned. I’ve mentioned the importance of asking the kinds of questions that help to create good policy before, but it seems important in this moment to zero in on this question in particular.
Why do some bills move forward while others are left behind? It often depends on the motivation behind why a bill was introduced.
Most often, legislation is proposed because it attempts to address a problem that citizens are experiencing, and that’s a good thing. But legislation can also be introduced for a number of, and perhaps multiple, other reasons.
Sometimes a bill gives legislators an opportunity to speak publicly about an issue that they think will play well with voters, or take a stance that they feel is their moral obligation to take. Other times, bills become opportunities for legislators to suss out larger issues like how the state government should function and what areas governments ought to have control over.
If citizens and legislators don’t think critically about the motivations which might exist behind the movement and passage – or stagnation – of bills we run the risk of only having half of the conversation. Here’s how:
- When the assumption is that every piece of legislation is only intended to address a challenge faced by citizens, it makes sense to debate how effective we think it will be at addressing that challenge
- When it’s understood that a bill could have multiple reasons for being introduced, it allows for more conversation about other important questions that a bill may raise, like how to decide whether regulations are necessary or excessive, how our government spends taxpayer money, or what the role of legislators ought to be.
By asking these “why questions,” by engaging in both pieces of the conversations around proposed bills;
- Citizens set themselves up to do a better job of advocating for issues that they want to see action on and
- Legislators are better able to serve the needs of their communities.
If both citizens and legislators can depend on each other to ask these questions, it develops the kind of mutual accountability that moves us into conversations, both at the Capitol and across the state, which build solid policy for West Virginia.
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