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Democratic Lawmakers in West Virginia Legislature Call for Greater Transparency

Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography Del. Lisa Zukoff, left, talks with Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, prior to Monday’s floor session.

CHARLESTON — With COVID-19 creating greater restrictions on the public’s access during the 2021 legislative session, Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates and state Senate called for better efforts at transparency for lawmakers.

Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, and state Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, held a press conference Monday to raise their concerns about transparency issues.

With 74 total bills passed from one chamber to the other — 30 House bills and 44 Senate bills — Zukoff and Lindsay said Republicans need to do a better job at making sure the public is not left out of the process.

“Transparency does have everything to do with trust,” Lindsay said. “We’re talking about a majority that’s been in power now for over five years and it’s become less and less transparent with every session.”

Monday was the first day a House committee allowed for a public hearing on a bill. The House Judiciary Committee held a virtual public hearing on House Bill 2389, allowing the state Department of Environmental Protection to make changes to water quality standards.

Zukoff said this was great, but other requests for public hearings on other bills have been denied by committee chairmen and in some cases testimony by invited witnesses to committees has not been allowed.

“It just appalls me that we are going through this at the Legislature,” Zukoff said.

While committees normally meet in four committee rooms, committee meetings are limited this year to the House Government Organization Committee room and the House Chamber due to their size, allowing members, staff, and guests to socially distance.

Zukoff and other House Democratic lawmakers have asked House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to allow committee meetings in the House Chamber to be live-streamed over video. All committees and the Chamber allow for audio live-streaming, but only the House Chamber has video capability.

“We thought since people … can’t be here this year because of COVID — everybody needs to be safe — the least we could do is to show those hearings to the public who normally can be here and attend,” Zukoff said.

Unlike the House, the state Senate provides video of committee meetings. The Senate completely overhauled its audio livestream systems and also implemented video archiving in 2016, allowing the press, lobbyists, and public to go back and watch past meetings and floor sessions.

Both the House and Senate communication teams – as well as the Legislature’s Office of Reference and Information — have worked to provide resources to the public. Many of these resources have been offered long before COVID-19.

Both Zukoff and Lindsay complained about the speedy process for legislation. Bills that would normally be sent through two committees for review are now single-referenced. Bills with financial effects are often skipping the finance committees in the House and Senate, and some bills with financial costs are missing fiscal notes.

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