It’s virtually a solution: Gaining access via online public hearings

Delegate Capito, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, addresses the House of Delegates. He facilitated Monday’s virtual public hearing.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY, THE HUB

Despite removing their obligation to conduct public hearings, public pressure prompted the House of Delegates to hold their first public hearing on a virtual platform (Microsoft Teams) this past Monday. More virtual public hearings are now underway. This public hearing followed the new traditions of this historic time–blending an approach of experimentation and innovation to continue moving our state forward.

Some aspects of this public hearing functioned well and could be used to create more entry points into the policymaking process for citizen lobbyists in the future. And, as with all innovative approaches, there were some aspects that could be improved upon as well.

The hearing featured many of the characteristics that an in person hearing does: 

  • Delegate Moore, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, kept the conversation on topic. 
  • Citizens gave up to three minutes of testimony on why the bill ought, or ought not pass. 
  • Members of the public and legislators were able to attend and hear the opinions being presented, even if they were not signed up to speak. 

Several aspects of this hearing went well and perhaps even better than in-person public hearings:

  • Citizens tuned in from across the Mountain State

From the convenience of anywhere with internet, citizens who felt strongly about water quality were able to make their voices heard. Barriers like child care, transportation, and time didn’t stand in the way of providing feedback to the legislature.

  • A lack of physical logistics meant that more people could be heard clearly

While the refrain “You’re muted.” was heard more than once, Chairman Capito and his team did a great job of ensuring that citizens were able to speak. Additionally, there wasn’t the usual shuffle associated with getting citizens to a central microphone or the struggle to hear what they were saying in a huge room full of people. 

There are still a few kinks to work out with the virtual hearing process:

  • Signing up for the hearing was a challenge.

Similar to in-person hearings, citizens who wished to speak were required to sign up. 

However, the time frame in which citizens could sign up was only one hour long. This one hour window was announced by email on the same day it occurred. The announcement and the sign up window took place during working hours, so those who can’t check email or make calls between 9 am and 5 pm were excluded. Longer windows and more advanced notice could solve this problem.

  • The House of Delegates was not obligated to offer this hearing.

This is an excellent example of how pressure from citizens can open up avenues for participation in the lawmaking process. But prior to this year, such an avenue would already have been open. A healthy democracy is one in which citizen access to the policy making process is honored a key tenet, not withheld unless the issue is forced.

The House of Delegates has already scheduled additional virtual hearings for other bills which are under review. 


This historic time has shown us all that we can innovate new ways to stay present with each other, to participate together in the work of building the kind of state we want to live in. It has shown us that many of these new ways of being together may be improvements upon the past and that this moment in our lives can be an opportunity to experiment and get better at doing the work that needs to be done.


Taylor Bennett is The Hub’s Director of Community Based Policy. You can reach her at t.bennett@wvhub.org.

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Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

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The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

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Emma Pepper

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Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

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Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

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Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

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