• Oct 28, 2019

Legislative hearings have become mostly theater

David J. Harris & Jean Trounstine
Commonwealth Magazine
October 24, 2019

(pictured above: snacks prepared by an organization for residents waiting to testify at legislative hearings)

We think it is past time to reconsider a deliberative process shrouded by disrespect, mystery, and legislators’ blank stares. It could well be that committee members do weigh all the testimony, oral and written. But the public, shuffled in and out in three-minute increments, has no way of knowing whether their remarks are actually being heard. The public has no window into a committee’s deliberative process and never learns why a bill sails through or alternatively fails to get out of committee, never coming before the full Legislature for a vote. It is as if there is a curtain that is deliberately drawn.

As we contemplate the various threats to our democracy today, from voter suppression to rampant abuses of power at the highest levels of our government, we must devote some attention to these local, seemingly minor, degradations. If we are to have any hope of creating a flourishing democracy, we must find a way to facilitate rather than stifle the exchange of ideas between members of the public and elected officials. An important step in that direction would be for the General Court to revamp and revise its committee hearing process.

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