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Advocacy begins with You

by Dan Kysor

Legislative advocacy doesn't just happen because someone wants it. Rather, membership action determines which legislation this organization supports or opposes through our resolution, motion and recommendation process.
This discussion relates to personal and chapter empowerment, the process by which a bill becomes law, how to write to your legislator, the way to subscribe to a bill and how to listen to a hearing on your computer. We will suggest ways your chapter can become more involved with the legislative advocacy process. Finally, we will also provide you with a helpful reference section containing phone numbers of news and information hotlines as well as listservs you can contact to keep up on the latest advocacy information.
Personal and Chapter Empowerment: During the phenomenal history of the great organized blind movement, CCB's efforts have concentrated on legislative advocacy, both at the State and Federal level. In order to effect change in education and social and civil rights, it has been necessary for the Council to use legislative advocacy programs at all levels of government, beginning with the reader services advanced by Dr. Newel Perry back in the 1930's and extending to the most recent passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the early 1990's. To ensure an adequate program, the Council maintains an advocate in Sacramento and has representation in Washington, D.C., vis-'a-vis the Governmental Affairs representative of the American Council of the Blind. City and county governments across the state are monitored by local chapters and their representatives.
To be a successful chapter of this great organization, it must have a membership that is interested in pursuing change to improve the lot of blind and visually impaired individuals. That effort means educating the public and, most of all, the politicians concerning the needs of blind, visually impaired and the disabled community. It is essential to:
* keep abreast of local issues concerning blind and visually impaired persons in newspapers, follow releases from our advocate in Sacramento, and read publications from the state and national organization;
* Promote educational and rehabilitation opportunities;
* Increase public awareness about the accomplishments of people who are blind or visually impaired;
* Support legislative and other advocacy programs that will enhance first class citizenship for the blind and visually impaired.
Reports from our Governmental Affairs Director are made on cassettes, in braille and large print, on computer diskette and via e-mail during the period that the legislature is in session. Regular updates are given in the CCB newsletter, The Blind Californian; at the spring and fall state conventions; at legislative seminars from time to time; and through the California Connection each week. For the Connection, phone 800-221-6359 evenings or weekends or consult the CCB Listserv: ccb-l. To subscribe, send e-mail to: ccb-l-subscribe@egroups.com leave everything else blank and simply send that message. You will receive a response to this message and your reply will confirm your subscription.
To keep up with federal legislation, call the Washington Connection evenings and weekends: 800-424-8666. You can also join ACB-l. To subscribe, send a message to: majordomo@telepath.com In the body of the message, type the words subscribe acb-l
If your chapter desires a special report from your Governmental Affairs Director, you may contact him or the Executive Office to set up a presentation to one of your regular chapter meetings.
Your chapter's legislative representative should give a monthly report and work to educate the members to support the programs of the CCB. The most appropriate and effective way to become involved in legislation is:
* register to vote.
* call local registrar's office to inquire where you can register.
* call this number at the office of the Secretary of State for registration information: 800-345-vote or 800-345-8683. At this number you can also request a sample ballot.
Know Your Legislators, Federal: know your congressional members of the Senate and House of Representatives by name and district number. You can secure this information from your local public library, not the special library that serves the blind.
State: Know your local district assembly and senate representatives by name and district number. Again, your local library can be of help, or you can telephone the governor's information line: 916-322-9900.
Know your legislator's party affiliation to make it easier to understand his/her philosophy and the best way to approach that individual.
Communications: Before supporting or opposing any legislation on behalf of the California Council of the Blind, be sure to communicate with the Executive Office and/or your Governmental Affairs Director, and do not take any action affecting a specific piece of legislation without discussing it with CCB persons trusted with information on these matters.
Know Your Subject: If you are promoting California Council of the Blind legislation, study your resolution concerning the matter. Be sure that you understand exactly what you are trying to do and why.
If you are working with a legislator and/or a member of his/her staff, you must be able to explain all factors relating to your concern. With legislation that you are opposing, be sure that you know precisely why you are opposing it and be able to explain in detail if required.
Chapter Governmental Affairs Committee: The chapter should have a governmental affairs chairman and committee consisting of a telephone subcommittee and a subcommittee to visit local legislators, identifying themselves clearly on such occasions as representing the CCB. All members of the committees should understand the legislation well.
A report on all legislative contacts should be forwarded to the Executive Office and the Governmental Affairs Director as soon as possible.
How a Bill Becomes Law: Advocacy really does begin with you. One of the most powerful things you can do is to just pick up your telephone and call your legislator's office to state your opinion on a particular situation whether it be an existing piece of legislation or a problem you are having with a service or government agency. Every call is logged and is almost as meaningful as a letter. Often bills get started because of that one phone call from you, the concerned citizen.
Bills may also originate from groups or organizations that find a legislator to "author" the measure. Finally, a bill can originate from the legislator him or herself. The legislator then sends the concept of the bill to the Legislative Counsel who drafts the bill and returns it to the legislator. If this is a Senate bill, it then goes to the Senate Desk where it is introduced and numbered. Next, the bill moves to the Rules Committee where it is printed and assigned to a committee.
The bill then goes to the Policy Committee where it is debated on the pros and cons of the issue. It may pass, be amended and pass or be amended and returned to the committee. If it passes or is passed and amended, it goes to the fiscal committee known as the Appropriations Committee. That committee differs from the Policy Committee in that only the fiscal impact is discussed.
If the bill passes this committee, it goes to the Senate floor where all the Senators vote on it. Succeeding there, it moves to the Assembly. If the bill had originated in the Assembly, it would go to the Senate after it had progressed through the identical process. Should one house not concur with the other concerning the bill, it goes to a combined Senate/Assembly Conference Committee to work out a solution satisfactory to both chambers. It then returns to the Senate and Assembly for final vote. When passage is achieved, the bill is enrolled to the Governor where he/she generally has 30 days to sign the bill or it becomes law. Once signed, it is chaptered and sent to the Secretary of State.
The Governor can veto the bill. In that case a positive vote of two thirds of the legislature is required to override the veto. If the veto is overridden, the bill is then chaptered.
Because many bills are complex and difficult to understand, we recommend that you read the Legislative Counsel's Digest portion of the bill, since it gives an overview of the entire bill.
Communicating with Your Legislator: The most effective method for making your case is to write a letter. With the advent of e-mail, it is becoming acceptable to communicate in this manner, but you should contact that person's office to learn if it is appropriate. The conventions for sending e-mail are as follows:
Sending E-mail to a member of the Assembly: first name, last name, at sign, smca.gov
Sending e-mail to a Senator: First name, period, last name, at sign, sen.ca.gov
Here is a sample letter:
Your address and Date
The Honorable . . . (legislator's name)
Re- Support (or Opposition) to bill Number . . .

Dear Assemblyman or Assemblywoman or Senator (last name)

I am writing in support of (or opposition to) Senate (or Assembly) bill . . . I am a resident of (county or district) and support (or oppose) this bill for the following reasons.
Note: Make statements brief and to the point. If you can write a paragraph describing how this bill will effect you, that strategy will be important.
Close with Sincerely, and your name
Tracking Legislation: This section is devoted to a tutorial on accessing the California Assembly and Senate's myriad databases as well as their several real-audio broadcasts. We will deal with 4 topics: key word search, finding and retrieving a particular piece of legislation, subscribing and listening to a bill.
Key Word Search: In order to know what bills fall into your interest area, you must either pay for a subscription service or, if you have access to the internet, search the databases of the legislature for the bill numbers. We have over 45 key words we use in searching the large "leginfo" database. Some of these words are: disabled, handicapped, blind, ssi/ssp, visually impaired::well, you get the idea.
Step 1: Point your browser to www.leginfo.ca.gov. In ordinary English this means that, in whatever program you are using to access the Web, type the address of the Web site you wish to view. Usually, after each step, you must press the Enter key.
Step 2: Tab or arrow down to Key Word Search.
Step 3: Type your key words::Example: blind, disabled, ssi/ssp, guide dog.
Step 4: Tab or arrow down to Search. You will then get a list of legislation pertaining to the above key words.
Finding and Retrieving a Piece of Legislation:
Step 1: Point your browser to www.leginfo.ca.gov.
Step 2: Tab or arrow down to bill Information.
Step 3: Tab or arrow down to Bill Number and type the bill number. You will most likely get a list of two bills, an Assembly bill and a Senate bill with the same number, one with an AB before the number and the other with an SB.
Subscribing Via E-mail to a Piece of Legislation: Subscribing to a bill has many advantages because you will find out everything that happens to it along its journey from house to house. You will also automatically get any amendments (changes to the bill).
Step 1: Send e-mail to: Senate-news@sen.ca.gov. Ignore the subject field. In the body of the message type: subscribe sb_858 (or whatever bill you want in either house of the legislature.) Notice that the character after SB is the underline.
Listening to a Hearing on Your Computer: Not all hearing rooms are wired live to the internet but many are::like Senate room 4203 and Assembly room 4202, for instance. You can also listen to the floor sessions which are usually restricted to the public. You must have the Real Audio Player already installed on your computer for this process to work.
Step 1: Point your browser to www.sen.ca.gov. Tab or arrow down to TV-Audio and simply pick the room you want to hear.
Web Sites: We offer our own Web site complete with copies of the Blind Californian, legislative information and CCB updates. The site is located on the affiliate page of acb.org or you can go directly to our page at www.acb.org/ccb. The American Council of the Blind's Web site is: www.acb.org.
Legislative Home Pages: The home page for the California Senate is www.sen.ca.gov while the Assembly page is www.leginfo.ca.gov.
Important Phone Numbers:
California Government Information Line 916-322-9900
California Legislative Bill Room (bills at no cost) 916-445-2323
For any additional information, contact Dan Kysor, the CCB Governmental Affairs Director; Telephone/Fax 916-648-3936

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