Communicate Your Views

November 26, 2013 by Sue Reeves

This is the fourth in a six-part series on advocacy: when to do it, where to do it and how to do it effectively. Our thanks to the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities and the Utah Statewide Independent Living Council for providing source information.

Images of legislative reception.

Rep. Ed Redd (standing) and Sen. Lyle Hillyard (seated at left) visit with constituents at a legislative reception in February 2013.

What is the best way to communicate your views to policymakers? Should you call, testify in person, e-mail, visit, or write to them?

Policymakers pay attention when citizens take the time to call and convey their views. Call just before upcoming votes in committee, on the floor, or late in the session. Avoid calling on Sunday or on Monday evenings. Letters are good before the session. E-mail is best during the session (use the subject line to indicate that you are a consitituent.

Personal visits can make a big difference if you have the time. If you’re planning a personal visit, call ahead and make an appointment. Be on time. Be brief (10-15 minutes). Respect their schedules. Take a one-page outline or fact sheet to remind them about your visit and concerns.

The following guidelines are helpful no matter which form of communication you choose.

–Always identify yourself by name and address. Perhaps the most important thing you can say about yourself is “I am a voter in your district.”

–Be brief, informed, and polite.

–Identify the issue, budget item or bill you want to talk about. Don’t assume they know about it—they have so much to deal with!

–State your purpose for calling and what your position is. Give one or more reasons for your position. It is almost always a good idea to speak from personal experience.

–Tell your own story.

–Always thank them for their time.

Utah residents can find out the names and contact information for their legislators by visiting http://le.utah.gov  .

Next Monday: The Golden Rules of Advocacy.

How an Idea Becomes a Law

November 25, 2013 by Sue Reeves

This is the third in a six-part series on advocacy: when to do it, where to do it and how to do it effectively. Our thanks to the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities and the Utah Statewide Independent Living Council for providing source information.

lawFirst, an idea is developed. A legislator draws from many sources in deciding what should be introduced in the Legislature as a bill. Major sources of ideas come from constituents, government agencies, special interest groups, lobbyists, the governor and other legislators.

The idea is submitted to the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, a nonpartisan legislative staff office, in the form of a bill request. The assigned bill drafting attorney reviews existing law, researches the issues and prepares the bill in proper technical form. The bill is given a number. A fiscal review is conducted and a “Fiscal Note” is attached. The bill is also reviewed for statutory or constitutional concerns.

Then the bill is introduced into the Legislature and referred to the Rules committee. The Rules committee recommends to the presiding officer the standing committee to which the bill should be referred. The standing committee, in an open meeting, reviews the bill and receives public testimony. The committee may amend, hold, table, substitute or make favorable recommendations on the bill.

Following the committee hearing, the bill is returned to the full house with a committee report. The committee reports the bill out favorably, favorably with amendments, substituted, or that the bill has been tabled.

The bill is debated in open session. During floor debate, the bill can be amended or substituted. It can be held (circled). For a bill to pass the Utah House of Representatives, it must receive at least 38 votes. The bill must receive at least 15 votes in the Utah Senate to pass.

After the bill has gone through both houses, it is signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel prepares the bill in final form. This is called the “enrolled” bill. The enrolled bill is sent to the governor, who can either sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without a signature. A bill enacted by the Legislature is effective 60 days following adjournment of the session, unless another date is specified in the bill.

On Wednesday: Communicate your views.

Understanding the Legislative Process

November 22, 2013 by Sue Reeves

This is the second in a six-part series on advocacy: when to do it, where to do it and how to do it effectively. Our thanks to the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities and the Utah Statewide Independent Living Council for providing source information.

Image of Utah State Capitol.

A view of the Utah State Capitol.

To understand how to influence potential legislation, you must first discover how the legislative process works. The State Legislature is responsible for making and changing state laws, as well as setting funding levels for the executive branch of government (the state budget).

There are two processes that take place: Appropriations and Bills.

The appropriations process decides the state budget and sets the funding levels for state programs, for example: funding for education, health care, Medicaid, housing, deaf and blind services, employment, etc. This is where your advocacy will take place if you have budget concerns.

The bill process creates or changes state statute and creates new programs, for example: creating an assistive technology program, lemon laws, changing the statute of how funding is distributed to school districts, etc.

Advocacy begins when you recognize the need to improve a program, create a new program or change state statute. Begin by talking to advocacy groups and getting involved. Next you want to talk to agency directors. Finally you take your issue to the legislators.

If your issue goes through the appropriations process, you want to find out which legislative appropriations committee would be discussing your issue. Contact the members of that committee. The appropriations committees in Utah that consistently work with disability issues are Social Services (Early intervention, Children With Special Health Care Needs, Medicaid, mental health, services for people with disabilities, workforce services, vocational rehabilitation, independent living, services for the blind and visually impaired, services for the deaf and hard of hearing), Higher Education and Public Education (special education, schools for the deaf and blind).

If you want to create or change state statute, you must find a legislator who can support your idea or “carry the bill.” This idea then becomes a bill which needs to pass through the legislative process to become a law. A bill will be heard and voted on seven times before it becomes a law.

Bills passed by the Legislature will change, delete or add to the laws of the state. The state budget is passed as a bill too, but the process is different. During the General Session, appropriations subcommittees put together the pieces of the overall budget, setting the levels and kinds of programs that are available through the various state agencies.

Utah residents can follow the progress of bills during the legislative session by visiting http://le.utah.gov and using the Tracking Service.

On Monday: How an idea becomes a law.

The Beginning of Advocacy

November 20, 2013 by Sue Reeves

This is the first in a six-part series on advocacy: when to do it, where to do it and how to do it effectively. Our thanks to the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities and the Utah Statewide Independent Living Council for providing source information.

Image at legislature.

The Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities hosts a reception during the Utah General Session for disability advocates.

Advocacy is already a part of your life. If you speak up for your child at school, a neighbor or a friend in need, you have already begun to build the skills needed to advocate for people with disabilities.

There are four basic steps to becoming involved in the legislative advocacy process: Choosing and learning about the issues, identifying decision-makers, understanding the legislative process and your role in it, and communicating your views.

First you have to identify the issues of concern that you want to influence. Education, employment, housing, transportation, or something else?

Is the issue between you and another person, or is it a community or state agency issue? Will it take legislation to make a difference? The legislature is the hardest place to make a change. At what level can you solve your issue?

Now that you’ve decided what to advocate for, you need to tell your own story to policymakers. They have never before experienced what your needs are. While you don’t need to know everything, you need to be able to answer the question, “why?” You can learn more about your issue by contacting existing advocacy groups or service providers, or conducting research by reading newspapers or searching the internet.

To identify decision-makers, call your local county clerk’s office and ask for the names and contact information of legislators that represent people in your area. Utah residents may access this information at http://le.utah.gov  .

On Friday: Understanding the legislative process.

Heidi’s Happenings: Spookified!

November 18, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Heidi Hill is a guest blogger for the CPD’s Developmental Skills Laboratory (DSL), a day program for adults with disabilities. Heidi loves to type and each month she’ll be sharing the fun activities that she and her “buds” are doing at DSL.

Image of woman in witch costume.

Halloween silliness at the DSL!

In October, Heid and her buds at the work site were very busy! At the very start of the month we spookified our whole downstairs! We had a great big spider that had exactly eight legs, and we hung it from the ceiling! All of its legs went from the middle of the ceiling to the outer wall!

We also went on a ride to the pumpkin patch. We all got to pick our special pumpkins for Halloween. We also got some pumpkins, roasted the seeds and cooked the pumpkin and made some yummy pumpkin bread. After all that work, we decided that from now it it is easier to buy pumpkin in a can.

We also went to see “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.” Boy, was it ever good. Heid and her buds sure did enjoy munching on the popcorn. We also got to help with the Pumpkin Walk. We painted squashes that looked like flowers. We had a wonderful Halloween Party where all the buds dressed up. We had yummy pizza, and two piñatas! We had lots of fun in October!

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