Now that the legislative committee system has wound down (save for the budget conference, which isn't exactly a forum for broad citizen input), I wanted to highlight this column that ran last weekend in the Washington Post. Those of you who read VCOG's daily listserv already saw this item posted, but for those of you who don't subscribe (and if you want to, here's a link to sign-up), the writer has this to say about the committee system, particularly during a short session:
[Legislators] note that some bills get fuller debate in subcommittee meetings or other hearings. Some merit less discussion because they're so similar to legislation rejected earlier. A longer session would cost taxpayers more. It would encourage grandstanding. Citizens can provide input via e-mail and other methods.
That's all fine, but there's no way sending an e-mail feels as influential for a citizen as speaking in person to legislators in a public meeting.
When testifying on bills related to access, I've been told to keep it brief, to not reiterate points already made. I've also been cut off in the middle of my testimony or told just to stand if I'm in agreement with a particular side.
I took it personally at first, but then got used to it and now know it's just part of the drill.
But citizens? The ones who take time off from work to come testify? The ones who carefully prepare their comments and sit clutching those drafts as they sit through countless bills waiting their turn to speak? The ones who probably have butterflies the size of pandas inside their bellies the whole time?
I'm not picking on any one subcommittee or committee chair. They've all done it to some extent. And, as the column says, it happens because the legislators are pressed for time, not usually because of any personal or ideological posture toward the bill.
But one would surely hope that when citizens come to the Holy City to state their case that some measure of special attention be meted out toward them.
What has been your experience? Leave a comment below.