Testify! But make it brief.

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.



Succinctly stated - if you don't have anything new to add to the conversation, sit the hell down.

I have sympathy for both sides having watched BOS meetings where every blowhard west of Timbuktu feels the need to get up and regale us with HIS Version of how the world works.

I think a simple FAQ for testifying in front of the GA should be sufficient if not totally satisfying for the neophytes.

We could argue the other way also.

We could suggest that one or two days during each GA - that the legislators return home to mandatory town meetings to "hear" their constituents and for them to specifically invite back to the GA the ones that they think the rest of the committees shoud "hear".

But I have a question for Megan which is what is the criteria for the requirement for a public "hearing" to start with?

Why can some things be decided without "hearing" from the public but other things ...apparently by law and constitution require a "hearing".

Larry - Even though the rules of notice and minutes do not apply to the General Assembly, they are generally expected to hold public hearing on ALL proposed legislation. And as their internal rules dictate, part of the hearing is to ask for comment from those in support and those in opposition to a bill. Thus, there is an expectation by all that the subcommittee (and sometimes committee) will hear testimony.

Megan - how about BOS? What governing rules require hearings based on what criteria?

What dictates whether a local BOS can enact policies administratively or will BOS vote without "hearings" and which decisions require hearings and why?

Is that in the Code of Va?

For ordinary local government meetings, there is no requirement under FOIA that there be a public comment period or, if there is one, how it is to be run. Localities can set their own rules.

There are parts of the Virginia Code, primarily in Title 15.2, that specifically say that decisions cannot be made unless a special public hearing is held and these may or may not require an opportunity for public comment. You can get a good sampling of these special decisions by looking at this bill from last year that talked about how those special decisions would be publicized: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?101+ful+HB586

Note, however, that the article above talked only about the General Assembly and how testimony -- from paid talking heads to citizen activists -- is frequently cut short or cut off altogether because of a lack of time.

I'm afraid I mucked up the question. Really nothing to do with FOIA but more to do with why.... for instance... a public hearing must be held prior to .. adopting a budget, changing an ordinance, changing a Comp Plan, but not hiring new deputies or creating an economic development authority.

What is it specifically that REQUIRES that a hearing be held in the first place for some things but not others?

The BOS seem to know without fail when they must hold a hearing although I have seen them at time turn to the county lawyer and ask "do we have to hold a hearing for this decision ?" and more often than not he knows the answer right off the top of his head but every so often has "to check".

What is it he is checking to make that determination?


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