With the elections finally behind us, we can begin to turn our attention to what these guys were all elected into office for: making our nation the best version of itself it can be – but our part is far from over yet! Getting out to the polls and voting is one thing but getting good laws on the books is another and that’s not just the jobs of our elected officials who are the voice of their constituents (those that elected them into office).
Ever come across or hear about a law and think “Where the heck did THAT come from?! Whose the idiot who got that into statute?” While yes, there may be a senator or representative’s name attached to a bill or law, often times the legislation is not something that the politician thought up all by him/herself – the idea may have actually have originated from a constituent, constituency or a special interest group.
Now before everyone gasps in horror cause I’ve just said “a bad word” (special interest group) let’s pull back for a sec and remember what a special interest group really is, NOT what it’s been painted out to be. According to Wikipedia
A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with an interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology where members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field, and may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. They may at times also advocate or lobby on a particular issue
As a Domestic Violence Survivor Advocate, my special interest group is survivors of domestic violence; domestic violence victims are a separate group and victim advocates help and speak for them. (If anyone’s still wondering what the difference is between a victim and a survivor, here’s an analogy: a victim would be like a kitten and a survivor would be like a cat; same thing essentially except that a kitten might not know what a dog is yet while a cat whose had a few close encounters already KNOWS what a dog is.)
Before the legislative session begins in January, the legislators will all be assigned to committees (to see what those are, click here: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/committees/committees.aspx?chamber=all) that will review and vote on measures presented before them for the topics they cover so, for example, the work that I do brings me into contact most frequently with the Human Services and Judiciary Committees (and sometimes Public Safety).
Historically this has meant that Representative John Mizuno and Senator Suzanne Chun-Oakland as House and Senate Chairs of their Human Services Committees (respectively) see me and hear more about domestic violence survivor issues then they’re probably comfortable with. Even though I don’t know what committee she’ll be placed on yet, Senator-elect Laura Thielen – as one of the elected officials from the district I live in – is also someone I can approach about my DV survivor issues because I’m her constituent. So if you had an idea for a good law, you could either approach the elected officials in your district OR find out whom the elected officials are who’ll address your topic to present your idea/s.
Presenting good ideas for new laws is only one half of the equation however; being alert, attentive and responsive to bad ideas is the other part. Several years ago, the DV community learned a painful lesson when a bill that would have dramatically changed the content of Temporary Restraining Orders made it all the way down to Crossover – where a bill approved on one side (ie: the Senate) crosses over for consideration to the other side (the House).
When an idea for a law (bill) gets that far down the road, A LOT of time, energy and effort has already been put into it so jumping up and down to have the bill killed (stopped) at that point is rude, inconsiderate and has wasted precious time. What had happened is that at the start of the session, the DV interest groups had all seen the TRO bill and because it was so ridiculously bad, everyone thought someone was going to do something about it – but no one did so it got reviewed, approved and passed throughout the session.
On the day of Crossover, one of the DV Educators from the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence called from the state capitol in a panic to say that the TRO bill was going to be crossed over and we needed to stop it now! Everyone who could left their offices and we got down to the capitol to implore the legislators not to cross the bill over. I vividly recall Senator Chun-Oakland being particularly upset asking if it was such a bad piece of legislation, then where were we all session? Why didn’t we submit testimony and let everyone know how bad it was before it got this far? (I felt pretty bad because the legislators and their staff DO put in some very hard and long hours during session. One session, I overheard one aide talking to another asking, “Aren’t those the same clothes you had on yesterday?” The aide replied yes, she was working until 4:00am, decided it wasn’t worth it to go all the way back home only to fight traffic to be back in by 8:00am so she crawled up on a desk and at least got some sleep.)
When they say “democracy is a process for the people by the people” they’re not just talking about turning up on Election Day – this country is what we make of it folks – so if you know something about finances and have an idea on how to fix the budget, or know of a way to increase tourism or have a plan to reduce the amount of motor vehicle accidents on our roadways, consult with the appropriate legislators and see what you can do! (I’m going to let them rest and recuperate from their campaigns for a little bit before bombarding them with DV survivor info and ideas myself!)
A final word about special interests: although given a bad rap because they’re associated with payoffs, pushing an agenda by pushing cash and “buying politicians” that’s not what they’re supposed to be all about.
Put it this way: I’m absolutely AWFUL with math so the last place you’d ever want to see me is making suggestions to the Finance Committee and I know absolutely nothing about dentistry (except fear) so I wouldn’t be and shouldn’t be the person consulting with the Health Committee Chair about dental practice reform. I think a good dental reform would be “if it hurts don’t do it” but anyone with expertise in dentistry can point out why that’d be a bad piece of legislation, the point being to stick to your area of expertise when presenting legislative ideas. The worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen come from those operating outside their area of expertise and the experts aren’t aware of the changes being proposed until it’s too late which leads to the “Where the heck did THAT come from?!” moments. So don’t “hide your light under a bushel” – let it shine and let’s help Hawaii’s new and re-elected leaders to give us the brighter and better future we all want!