By Mo Del Villar
In the year since coronavirus came to Missouri, the People’s access to the lawmaking process and our lawmakers has been negligible. In February 2020, it was clear that Missouri needed to take action to protect legislators and their constituents. Instead, we’ve witnessed legislators that have repeatedly mocked CDC guidelines, all while experiencing outbreaks within their ranks. Time and time again we’ve seen Missourians make a choice—do I come to the legislature and risk contracting COVID-19 or do I stay silent? At this moment, halfway through session and during the legislature’s brief break, it is time to reflect on the state of our rights.
Each month that passes of the current Missouri legislative session I see Missourians deprived of their right to testify. I see their written testimony ignored. I see virtual testimony available a grand total of two times in countless hearings. I witness my own work being devalued. This is not how the government should function.
As everyday Missourians were settling into working from home, or having their children home all day due to closed schools or stretching very limited resources after losing jobs and income, the State went back to work—without your input. The only noticeable and announced changes in the Statehouse were the scheduling of extra sanitation and installment of alternative items to reduce germ-spread in high touch areas, such as installing foot pull door openers on bathroom doors. Public access to their legislators is at an all-time low.
For months, advocates, lobbyists, and everyday Missourians have been denied the ability to voice their concerns with their government officials tasked with serving these very communities. While there have been repeated calls to allow public testimony remotely, from the right and left, we have seen a failure in both the House and Senate to provide this in any meaningful way. This is governing in the dark. It is beyond troubling. I and others have submitted written testimony as we were instructed to by the body both through their online systems and through email to individual committee members. This testimony often goes unacknowledged in committee hearings. It is rare to hear the names of those organizations and individuals who support or oppose a measure. In weeks where we’ve testified upwards of ten times, we have been verbally recognized by the chair or a committee member twice—in a good week. While information on who testified may be available after the hearing, the point of public hearings is to hear from the community out loud for fair and honest debate in the public square.
Meanwhile, people who are willing to ignore social distancing guidelines are rewarded for being in person, always allowed to go first. Their risk is rewarded with access and it is painfully irresponsible to watch. Missourians care about these issues- from First Amendment rights to your children's rights in schools to policing reform and so much more. They should have a voice.
For a healthy democracy to operate as constitutionally intended, it must be transparent and legislators need to hear various citizens' input with different opinions and life experiences. We shouldn't have to risk our lives or the lives of our families to have our voices heard. It is time to restore the intent of the so-called “People’s House.” For now, we must speak out against this process through the press to ensure our democracy’s promise.