There is always a danger in generalizing on the basis of one experience. I know of many parents who have raised one baby and think that they know all about raising children, but then they have a second baby and learn that each child is different. Here's what worked for us in our legislative effort. Hope it works as well for you:
Unite and stay united. Our unity from the beginning enabled us to later negotiate with one voice. We were fortunate that Ann Cameron-Schick called us together at the right time and that Tom Eldredge and I were able to develop a working relationship and retain the trust of the other leaders across the state. Tom and I would phone each other and many other homeschooling leaders whenever important decisions needed to be made. We also had leadership meetings at least once or twice a year where all those interested in devoting a lot of time to the effort came together to make plans.
Find a champion. You will need to find someone in the legislature who believes in your cause almost as much as you do. You may have to contact dozens of legislators before you find one who is really interested in being your champion. We were very fortunate to find Representative Joseph Pitts. His advice was invaluable, and his help behind the scenes was immeasurable. You will need to act on anything your champion asks you to do because he will need to trust you as much as you will need to trust him. Your champion may not necessarily be the sponsor of your bill. For your bill to pass under its own number, the sponsor should be a member of the majority party.
Be patient. It usually takes at least four to six years to get a bill passed. Your first steps will help simply because your people will begin to get the courage to talk with their legislators. Try to break up the task of getting the bill passed into subtasks like getting as many legislators as possible to sponsor it, getting as many legislators as possible to come to a legislative breakfast, getting the proper committee to hold hearings, getting the Chair of the committee to bring the bill up for a vote, and so on. Every time you concentrate your energies on a task you will get more people to visit their legislators. According to Rep. Pitts, most representatives will support a bill if they get five face-to-face visits and ten letters from their constituents.
Plan for group meetings with legislators. Often people will not meet their legislators except as part of a group. Our annual legislative breakfasts provided a state-wide group activity. Similarly, we had several local group meetings between important legislators and homeschoolers from their districts.
Get the press to cover the story. Favorable newspaper articles will help your cause. You can get the press to cover your story by getting lots of people to call the newspapers and the TV stations to invite them to an event. Once your local papers begin to cover the story that local people are influencing the legislative process, they may continue to cover it until your bill passes.
Leave room for negotiation. Your initial position should leave you room for negotiation. Our initial bill would have given us complete freedom with virtually no supervision. Be aware, however, of what principles are at stake so that when you negotiate you will know where to draw the line. You will need to be ready to oppose your own bill if it gets amended in a way that would violate the principles you have at stake.
Involve experienced negotiators. Successful negotiation takes skill. Fortunately for us, Tom Eldredge knew much about negotiation through his experience as a businessman. I would recommend that any group involve experienced negotiators. Also there are many resources available which can help novices learn about negotiation.
Target key legislators. You need to especially have constituents visit the leaders who control whether bills come up for a vote. You can personally call constituents of the key legislators and give them their legislators' phone numbers. You might even have to phone the key legislator yourself and arrange a face-to-face meeting. Then you may have to practically drag the constituents to the scheduled meeting. Another way you can influence a committee chairman or a majority leader is to get other legislators to talk to him. The Chair of a committee is influenced by the members of his committee, the majority leader by legislators in his party. There is also the power of the pest. You sometimes can get a key leader to bring your bill up just so you won't be clogging his phone lines and reception room.
Develop good internal communications. We had two sources for communications, the mailing list of our state-wide newsletter, and our phone tree. Some messages, such as our Emergency letter, were too long and complicated for a phone tree message so we sent them out by mail. But in the crunch, the phone tree got short important messages out with speed. I called the steering committee members, and they called all of the local homeschooling support group leaders, and they made sure the messages got out to their members.
A continuous presence is effective. A lot of groups come to lobby one time and then disappear. For example, once every year the motorcyclists converge upon Harrisburg to advocate a change in the helmet law. Our continuous presence at the end of the legislative session kept us on the agenda and let the legislators know that they would have to deal with us sooner or later.
Prepare fact sheets. Some groups put out a regular newsletter which they mail to each legislator. Although we had a few mailings, we mostly relied on fact sheets which we passed out at our legislative breakfasts and gave to homeschoolers to take to their legislators. Some of our fact sheets addressed specific issues such as "Home Education and Child Abuse," or "Achievement Test Results for Home Educated Children." Some of them were just reprintings of studies of homeschooling or newspaper articles about homeschooling. Other factsheets described our bill -- just in the last two months of our effort we had three different descriptions of different versions of Senate Bill 154. Since most legislators never give fact sheets more than a cursory look, it is important for factsheets to make their points through their titles and headings.
Show the legislators the goodness of your cause. Some legislators will be swayed by their leaders. Some will be swayed by constituent pressure. Some will make decisions for themselves and will want to know whether your cause is good. A large part of our success can be attributed to the homeschooled children who spoke at our events and persuaded many leaders that homeschooling was good.
RR 2 Box 117
Kittanning PA 16201
Copyright 1989 by Howard B. Richman, All rights reserved
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